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Title: The "Blackwood" Group - Famous Scots Series
Author: Douglas, Sir George
Language: English
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Published by Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier · Edinburgh and London

       *       *       *       *       *


_The following Volumes are now ready:_--

THOMAS CARLYLE. By Hector C. Macpherson.
ALLAN RAMSAY. By Oliphant Smeaton.
HUGH MILLER. By W. Keith Leask.
JOHN KNOX. By A. Taylor Innes.
ROBERT BURNS. By Gabriel Setoun.
RICHARD CAMERON. By Professor Herkless.
SIR JAMES Y. SIMPSON. By Eve Blantyre Simpson.
THOMAS CHALMERS. By Professor W. Garden Blaikie.
JAMES BOSWELL. By W. Keith Leask.
TOBIAS SMOLLETT. By Oliphant Smeaton.
THE BLACKWOOD GROUP. By Sir George Douglas.

       *       *       *       *       *

The designs and ornaments of this volume are by Mr Joseph Brown, and
the printing from the press of Messrs Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh.

_April 1897._

       *       *       *       *       *


Major-General Sir WILLIAM CROSSMAN, K.C.M.G.,


       *       *       *       *       *








_Note_--The Ettrick Shepherd and John Gibson Lockhart, conspicuous by
their absence from the above list of writers associated with the early
days of the publishing-house of Blackwood, will receive attention in
forthcoming volumes of the series.


Is it too bold a thing to say that the reputation of 'Christopher
North,' the man, has survived that of his works? Third in the great
dynasty of Scottish literary sovereigns, he ascended the throne upon the
death of Scott, reigned gloriously and held high state in the Northern
Capital--whence in earlier days he had waged direst war--and at his
death passed on the sceptre to Carlyle, from whom in turn it descended
to Stevenson. To us of to-day, he looms on the horizon of the past, the
representative of a vanished race of physical and intellectual
giants,--the historic legend revealing him as before all things a good
man of his inches, a prince of boon-companions and good-fellows, a wit,
a hard hitter, the soul and centre of a brilliant circle, and the author
of the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_. Many other works he wrote--important in
their own day--but now not unjustly forgotten, or all but forgotten. But
the man himself was greater than his works; he, more than they, is our
enduring possession; his memory it behoves us to preserve.

       *       *       *       *       *

The story of his life has been told, in terms of affectionate
appreciation, by his daughter, Mrs Gordon. Born at Paisley--in a
neighbourhood where that natural beauty to which he was so susceptible
was still at that time almost unsullied--on the 18th May 1785, he was
the eldest of his parents' sons and their fourth child. His father, a
gauze-manufacturer by trade, was possessed of considerable wealth;
whilst through his mother, whose maiden name was Sym, and who claimed
descent from the great Marquis of Montrose, he had inherited a strain of
'gentle' blood. From the first he was a robust and lively boy, and his
childhood, being passed under the most favourable of conditions, was an
entirely happy one. His taste for field-sport first declared itself at
the early age of three years, when equipped with willow-wand, thread,
and crooked pin, he set off, unattended, on an adventurous angling
expedition. Meantime the parallel mental activity, which was to be
through life his characteristic, was manifested in quaint infantine
pulpit-oratory at home. After receiving the rudiments of instruction at
Paisley, he was placed as a boarder with the minister of the
neighbouring parish of Mearns, with whom he remained until his twelfth
year. Here he was not less happy than at home. Without doors--and one
thinks of him as a boy whose life was spent chiefly in the open air--he
had a wide and beautiful country to range; whilst within, his education
proceeded merrily--he was foremost among his young companions at the
task as well as in the playground--and he was carefully trained in the
paths of wisdom and virtue. In later life his memory reverted fondly to
these days, to which his writings contain various references--as when he
tells of boyish shooting experiences, with an antiquated musket,
traditionally supposed to have been 'out' in both the Fifteen and the
Forty-five, of an adventure in a storm when lost upon the moors, and so
forth. In his twelfth year he lost his father, and soon afterwards he
was placed at the University of Glasgow, where he continued to attend
classes until the year 1803. Here he resided in the house of the
Professor of Logic, Professor Jardine, to whom and to the Greek
Professor, Young, he in later life gratefully acknowledged his debt.
Meantime his mother with her young family had gone to live in Edinburgh.

There and at Glasgow, from January to October 1801, young Wilson kept a
diary, which was preserved, and from which his biographer prints some
extracts. These are disappointing; but the document itself is remarkable
for orderliness and precision, exhibiting the writer as the very pattern
of a well-brought-up youth. More interesting, however, as a
manifestation of character is the impulse which, in the year following,
led the seventeen-year-old young man to address a letter of generous
admiration, not, however, untempered with criticism, to the author of
the _Lyrical Ballads_. Wordsworth replied, and thus was begun an
intercourse which was afterwards destined to ripen into friendship.

In June 1803, Wilson was transferred from Glasgow to Oxford, where he
was entered as a gentleman-commoner of Magdalen College. He began his
career there with ambitious views, his course of study, as shown by his
commonplace books, being designed to embrace not only the prescribed
curriculum in the Ancient Classics, but studies in Law, History,
Philosophy, and Poetry as well. But, if he read hard--as, with
occasional intermissions, he undoubtedly did--he also entered with zest
into the athletics and other amusements of the place, testing his
prowess in wrestling, leaping, boating, and running, and, at the same
time, indulging in what to a later age may appear the more questionable
sports of pugilism and cock-fighting. Some traditions of the feats then
performed by him survive. Among these are stories of his triumphant
encounter with a certain redoubtable pugilist who had insulted him; of
his coming out one night from a dinner-party in Grosvenor Square, and
proceeding then and there to walk back to Oxford--accomplishing the
distance of fifty-eight miles in some eight or nine hours; or, of his
clearing the river Cherwell at a flying leap--twenty-three feet in
breadth on the dead level. Yet, these distractions notwithstanding, he
succeeded in passing the examination for his Bachelor's Degree, in a
manner which his tutor characterised as 'glorious,' and in producing
such an impression of scholarship on the minds of the Examiners as to
call forth the rare testimony of a public expression of their thanks. He
also carried off the Newdigate Prize, awarded for English verse. In
commenting on the amiability of his disposition, his biographer observes
that he harboured not an envious thought. But surely to have done so
were a very superfluity of naughtiness; for, gifted as he was, by
fortune as well as nature, whom was it possible for this admirable youth
to envy?

After taking his degree, he still continued for a time to frequent
Oxford, astonishing the younger members of the common-room of his
college by his extraordinary conversational powers and by occasional
quaint freaks, but at the same time delighting them by his good-humour.
It is told of him at this time that he would sometimes indulge his fancy
by resorting to the coaching-inns at the hour of the arrival of the
mails, presiding at the travellers' supper-table, and hob-nobbing with
all and sundry, whom his wit and pleasantry seldom failed to impress. At
this era his personal appearance is described as especially striking.
It was that of a man of great muscular strength, but lightly built;
about five feet ten inches in height, with uncommon breadth of chest;
florid, and wearing a profusion of hair, and enormous whiskers--the
latter being in those days very unusual. De Quincey says he was not
handsome, but against such testimony we may surely set off that of
Raeburn's portrait, painted a few years earlier.

These ought to have been golden days, indeed, but much of their
happiness was marred by an unlucky love-affair. At Glasgow, some years
before, Wilson had made the acquaintance of a young lady of great charm
of person and character, who in the biography figures as 'Margaret,' or
The Orphan Maid. The impression which she produced upon him was profound
and lasting, and at parting he had inscribed to her a small volume of
manuscript poems of his own. From this point the biographer is rather
vague in her account of the progress of the attachment; yet we have
abundant evidence that its course was a most troubled one. For instance,
in August 1803, we find our hero writing to a friend in the following
desperate strain:--'By heavens! I will, perhaps, some day blow my brains
out, and there is an end of the matter.' Later he says: 'The word happy
will never again be joined to the name of John Wilson.' And again he
speaks of summoning two friends to support him and pass with him the
night on which Margaret was to be married to another. This dreaded
marriage did not take place, but it is quite evident that the lover long
continued in a most unsettled state of mind. Thus we hear of his having
swallowed laudanum, lost his powers of study, indulged in 'unbridled
dissipation'; of sudden aimless journeys, undertaken on the spur of the
moment, and landing him at nightfall at such unlikely places as Coventry
or Nottingham; of solitary rambles in Ireland and in Wales. 'Whilst I
keep moving,' he writes, in October 1805, 'life goes on well enough; but
whenever I pause the fever of the soul begins.' He even entertained an
idea of joining the expedition of Mungo Park to Timbuctoo. No doubt in
all this he believed himself sincere enough at the time, but it is not
necessary for us to take his utterances quite seriously. The blowing out
of brains has been alluded to, and it seems more than probable that a
point of Wertherism entered into his distemper. At any rate, in giving
an order for the works of Rousseau at the time, he is careful to
emphasize his desire to have them complete. In dismissing the episode it
may be mentioned that, though the various obstacles to a union between
himself and Margaret are not detailed, in his case filial obedience
would seem to have been the final deterrent.

During a tour in the English lake country in 1805, Wilson had fallen in
love with and purchased the property of Elleray, consisting of a
delightful cottage-residence, standing in grounds of its own, and
commanding lovely views of mountain, lawn, and forest scenery, rising
above the waters of Lake Windermere; and it was there that, on leaving
Oxford in 1807, he took up his abode. He was now in the fullest sense
his own master, and at this point it may be worth while briefly to take
note of his attitude towards life.

The ideal of the sound mind in the sound body has been universally
recognised as a good one; but, whether deliberately or instinctively,
Wilson seems to have aimed higher still. He aspired to the mind of a
philosopher in the body of an athlete; and the word philosopher must
here be taken in its highest sense--to signify not the thinker only, but
the lover of wisdom for its own sake. A saner or loftier ideal could
scarcely be conceived; and Nature, who too often unites the soaring mind
with the body which does it previous wrong, had in this case given the
means of attaining, or at least approaching it. Thus the Christopher
North of this period remains a possession and a standard of manhood to
his countrymen. He brings home to them the Hellenic ideal, pure and
unvitiated by any taint of Keatsian sensuality, as Goethe had brought it
home to Germany. In the process of naturalization that ideal underwent
some modification; but the fact that the poetry which North wrote at
this time was of perishable quality does not in reality detract from the
service which he rendered to his country.

For poetical composition seems to have been now the serious business of
his life. As for his diversions, they remained of the same healthy type
as in his Oxford days. The sailing of a fleet of boats on Windermere,
and the rearing of game birds were perhaps his special hobbies; but
wherever manly exercises were to the fore, there was he to be found. The
country in which he was now located being a wrestling country, he became
an enthusiastic patron of that excellent exercise, and effected much for
its encouragement. And at the same time he was free of the society of
Wordsworth, Coleridge, De Quincey, and the other able and gifted men
whose presence made the district at that era a centre of intellectual

Amid these varied interests, two or three years were passed contentedly
enough; but at the end of that time we find Wilson writing to a friend
of his need of an anchor in life. 'I do not, I hope, want either
ballast, or cargo, or sail,' he writes, 'but I do want an anchor most
confoundedly, and, without it, shall keep beating about the great sea of
life to very little purpose.' This 'anchor' he was fated to find in the
person of Miss Jane Penny, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant, a
favourite partner of his own at the local dances, and at that time the
'leading belle of the Lake Country,' to whom he was happily married on
the 11th May 1811.

His marriage had the effect of somewhat delaying the publication of a
volume of poetry which he had previously been preparing for the press,
and it was not until February of the following year that _The Isle of
Palms, and Other Poems_ made its appearance--having been shortly
preceded by an anonymously-published elegy on the death of James
Grahame, author of _The Sabbath_.

_The Isle of Palms_ tells in mellifluous numbers the story of a pair of
lovers, shipwrecked on an island paradise in tropic seas, who espouse
each other in the sight of Nature and Heaven. Of course the idyll
irresistibly recalls Bernardin's masterpiece, and, judging between the
two, it must be acknowledged that in originality and artistic perfection
the Frenchman's prose has greatly the advantage. But it is noticeable
and must be counted to Wilson's credit that, whilst profoundly
influenced by pre-Revolutionary thought, he never, even at this early
period of his life, allows himself to be led away from the paths
prescribed by virtue and religion. His healthy instinct, fortified by
excellent training, sufficed to show him that anarchy in the moral world
is no more a part of nature's scheme than is habitual excess; and thus
the worship of Liberty and the State of Nature, which afterwards led to
such questionable results in the cases of Byron and of Shelley, left him
entirely unharmed. It is true that rigid formalists have been found to
object to the 'natural marriage' of the lovers in the poem, deploring
the absence of a clergyman on the island. But with these we need not
concern ourselves.

The success of the poems was but moderate; yet it sufficed to bring the
author into notice in Edinburgh, where he and his wife were spending the
season with his mother and sisters, and whence Sir Walter Scott wrote of
him, in a letter to Joanna Baillie, as 'an excellent, warm-hearted, and
enthusiastic young man,' adding that, 'Something too much, perhaps, of
the latter quality' placed him upon the list of originals.

Dividing his time between Edinburgh and Elleray, the young poet now
continued to vary his active open-air life by the plotting and
composition of new poems, and in these pursuits, had his affairs
continued prosperous, it is quite possible that the remainder of his
life might have been spent. For it is a truism that any large measure of
happiness is unfavourable to enterprise, and what young Wilson now
really stood in need of was some stimulus to exertion from without. Such
stimulus duly arrived, taking the form of what in a worldly sense is
known as ruin. To speak more circumstantially, in the fourth year after
his marriage, the unencumbered fortune of £50,000 which he had enjoyed
from the time of his father's death, was, through the dishonesty of an
uncle who had acted as steward of the estate, entirely lost to him.[1]
But, severe as this blow was, his biographers are agreed in pronouncing
it to have been a blessing in disguise, and the means of bringing out
much that was in the man, which would otherwise in all probability have
been lost to the world.

It was now, of course, necessary for him to put his shoulder to the
wheel, and, with the exception of Sir Walter Scott, perhaps no man ever
rose more manfully or uncomplainingly to the occasion. But between these
parallel cases there was one great difference; for Scott's misfortunes
fell upon him when he was advanced in years and worn with toil, whilst
Wilson was able to bring the prime of youth and strength to bear upon
his troubles. He now took up his abode altogether in Edinburgh, being
gladly received into the house of his mother,--a lady who to a fine
presence and strong and amiable character added notable house-keeping
talents, which enabled her during several successive years to accomplish
the somewhat difficult and delicate task of making three separate
families comfortable and happy under one roof. In the same year, 1815,
Wilson was called to the Scots Bar. But, though for a year or two to
come he seems to have made a point of staying in Edinburgh whilst the
Courts were sitting, a short experience sufficed to convince him that
his vocation did not lie in that direction. It was some time before he
succeeded in settling down to congenial work, and, indeed, what we hear
most of during the next year or so are pedestrian and fishing excursions
to the Highlands. Whilst on these expeditions great would be the
distances which he compassed on foot, immense the baskets of fish which
he brought home. On one of them, he had his wife as his companion, when
the happy Bohemianism of the young couple--or, as some would have it,
the poet's eccentricity of conduct--led them into some queer
experiences. Among his adventures we may specify a contest in the four
manly arts of running, leaping, wrestling, and drinking, with a local
champion nicknamed King of the Drovers, in which Wilson came off

In March 1816 appeared his second volume of verse, entitled _The City of
the Plague_. This poem forms a startling contrast to the _Isle of
Palms_, for, in place of nature at its softest and sentiment sweet to
the point of cloying, we are now presented with the gloomiest and
ghastliest of studies in the charnel-house style. Several of the scenes
depicting the madness of the London streets at the period of the great
pestilential visitation are by no means without a certain power, which,
however, inclines to degenerate into violence. Two young
sailors--certainly most unlike to all preconceived notions of the seamen
of the age of Blake--help to supply the necessary relief and
'sentiment,' of which there is no lack. But, from beginning to end,
there is little or nothing truly poetical in the tragedy. The movement
of its blank verse is most frequently harsh and jolting, and serves to
confirm one in the opinion that the author was well-inspired when he
abandoned poetry, as he was now to do. Nor do the minor poems which make
up the remainder of the volume show cause for altering this judgment.
Certainly they abound, even to excess, in evidence of the love of
nature; but that alone never yet made a poet.

The transition which now lay before the author was an abrupt and violent
one. From the world of nature and sentiment in which he had hitherto
dwelt undisturbed, he found himself summoned to pass into the arena of
periodical literature, and that in an age when not only was it the
misfortune of such literature to be before all things political, but
when political feeling ran to a pitch of which at the present day it is
difficult even to form a conception,--when the mere designations Whig
and Tory, as mutually applied, were regarded less as party distinctions
than as terms of abuse or reproach. And, to add to the contrast which
lay before Wilson, the place in which he was called to take this step
was precisely that in which the war of periodicals was destined to be
waged most keenly. In order properly to understand the circumstances
which led to this warfare, it is necessary to go back some years.

The horrors of the French Revolution had been followed in Edinburgh by a
strong Tory reaction--a reaction of the excesses of which Henry
Cockburn, in his Memorials, has left a highly-coloured and perhaps not
unprejudiced account. In 1802, as a counterpoise to overwhelming Tory
supremacy, and a rallying-point for those thereto opposed, the
_Edinburgh Review_ had been established. It was supported by a group of
remarkably able young men, whose talents soon raised it to a position of
unexampled influence in the world of letters. That it performed
excellent service in the cause of enlightenment is undeniable; yet it
failed to bear itself with all the moderation proper to success, and in
time showed signs of becoming in its turn a tyranny. Those who were
opposed to it, whilst regarding as dangerous its opinions in politics
and religion, also grew tired (in their own words) of its flippancy and
conceit. Now it happened that about this time a certain new magazine,
recently founded by a very shrewd and enterprising Edinburgh publisher,
after languishing for some months under incompetent editorship, had
reached the very point of dissolution. In this periodical the Tory
malcontents saw an instrument ready to their hands. New spirit was
infused into its nerveless frame, and in October 1817 appeared the first
number of Blackwood's remodelled Edinburgh Magazine. And among those who
gave the hot fresh blood of youth to revive its languishing existence,
one of the foremost was John Wilson. It may be mentioned that before
this he had contributed a literary article to the rival organ, with the
presiding genius of which he was on terms of friendship. His new
departure led to a rupture of that friendship, but to hold that his acts
had committed him to the support of the _Edinburgh Review_ would be to
put an altogether strained construction upon them.

A detailed history of the stormy first years of the new publication,
however piquant and racy it might be made, forms no part of our present
scheme. Suffice it to remind the reader that the 'success of scandal'
which the magazine at once obtained is matter of notoriety; nor can that
success be pronounced undeserved. Indeed the very first number of the
new issue, besides scathing articles on Coleridge and Leigh Hunt,
contained the celebrated 'Translation from an Ancient Chaldee
Manuscript'--afterwards suppressed--consisting of a thinly-veiled attack
upon a rival magazine, and abounding in gross personalities to the
address of leading citizens of Edinburgh. These excesses, though the
cause of much heart-burning at the time, can scarcely be pronounced of
enduring interest; and it is more profitable, as well as more pleasing,
to turn to the other side of the picture. For it must not by any means
be supposed that the new venture relied solely upon objectionable
personalities for attracting and holding its readers. 'These,' as
Wilson's biographer observes, 'would have excited but a slight and
temporary notice, had the bulk of the articles not displayed a rare
combination of much higher qualities;' and she goes on to say that
whatever subjects were discussed were handled with a masterly vigour and
freshness, and developed with a fulness of knowledge and variety of
talent that could not fail to command respect even from the least
approving critic. Still it is undeniable that for many months to come
the series of onslaughts was kept up almost without intermission, whilst
even persons locally as highly and as justly respected as Chalmers and
Playfair were made to feel the sting of the lash. Consisting as it did
of a recrudescence of the discountenanced literary methods of the age of
Smollett, all this is regrettable enough, and of much of it there can be
little doubt that 'The Leopard'--to give Wilson the name which he bore
in the magazine--was art and part. His exact share in productions which
were not merely anonymous but of which mystification was an essential
feature is impossible to trace; but we are glad at least to have the
assurance of his daughter that, amid all the violence of language and
extravagance of censure which disfigured his early contributions to the
magazine, she has been unable to bring home to his hand 'any instance of
unmanly attack, or one shade of real malignity.' Our knowledge of the
man's character makes us ready enough to believe that he did not mean to
give pain; whilst there is always this excuse--whatever it may be
worth--for Maga's early indiscretions: that they were the work of
inexperienced men, carried away by the exuberance of their spirits, and
genuinely--if indefensibly--ignorant of the laws of literary good
manners, or, as one of themselves has expressed it, of the 'structure
and practice of literature' as it existed at that day in Britain. With
which reflection, an unthankful subject may be dismissed. For ourselves
the real significance of the magazine in its early days consists, not in
stories of challenges sent or damages paid, but in the fact that it
afforded to John Wilson a first opportunity of giving full and free play
to his talents. The characteristic of his genius was not so much
_fineness_ as abundance, and thus we may believe that his gain from the
new stimulus to constant and rapid production more than balanced his
loss from absence of opportunities of polishing his work. Certainly from
the time of his active and regular employment, he began to throw off
those tendencies to affectation and philandering which had characterised
his early efforts in the 'Lake' school, and though he never quite lost
the habit of as the French say 'caressing his phrase,' he became from
henceforth more virile, more himself.

Standing now to all appearance committed to literature as his vocation,
in the year 1819 he left his mother's hospitable roof, and removed with
his wife and family to a small house of his own, situated in Ann Street,
on the outskirts of the town, where, besides having Watson Gordon, the
portrait-painter, for his immediate neighbour, he enjoyed the society of
Raeburn and Allan among artists, and of Lockhart, Galt, Hogg, and the
Hamiltons among literary men.

In April of the year following, by the death of Dr Thomas Brown, the
Chair of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh became vacant.
Wilson thereupon resolved to present himself as a candidate for it, as
did Sir William Hamilton, and though the names of other aspirants are
mentioned, from the first the real contest lay between these two. They
had both been brilliant students at Oxford, but in almost every other
respect their qualifications for the coveted post were about as
different as could be; for since his college days Hamilton had devoted
himself exclusively to the study of philosophy, and had now substantial
results of his labours to exhibit, whilst Wilson--though we are
expressly told that the study in question had always had a powerful
attraction for him--was yet known to the world only as a daring and
brilliant littérateur, and a genial and somewhat Bohemian personality.
There is no need to say with which of the two, in such a competition,
the advantage at first sight seemed to lie. But it is necessary to
explain that the election was fought on political grounds, that Hamilton
was a Whig, and that the electing body was the Town Council of
Edinburgh. It is gratifying to be able to record that the candidates
themselves remained upon friendly terms. But never had party-feeling
been known to run so high as between their respective adherents,--so
that, before the election was over, Wilson had been called on to face
charges of being a 'reveller,' which he probably was, a blasphemer,
which we cannot think him ever to have been, and a bad husband and
father, which he certainly was not. In the end he secured a majority of
twelve out of thirty votes; whilst an attempt to set aside his election,
which was made at a subsequent meeting of the Council, ignominiously

Keenly alive to the responsibilities of a position which he cannot long
have looked forward to occupying, the newly-made Professor at once
devoted himself to preparation for the discharge of his duties. Whilst
thus engaged, his application was intense,--as well it might be, for it
was stipulated that he was to deliver some hundred-and-fifty lectures
during the forthcoming Session, and he had but four months in which to
prepare them. Native genius, pluck and perseverance, however, carried
him triumphantly over every obstacle. His first lecture has thus been
described by one who was present on the occasion.[2]

    'There was a furious bitterness of feeling against him among the
    classes of which probably most of his pupils would consist, and
    although I had no prospect of being among them, I went to his first
    lecture prepared to join in a cabal, which I understood was formed
    to put him down. The lecture-room was crowded to the ceiling. Such a
    collection of hard-browed, scowling Scotsmen, muttering over their
    knobsticks, I never saw. The Professor entered with a bold step,
    amid profound silence. Everyone expected some deprecatory or
    propitiatory introduction of himself, and his subject, upon which
    the mass was to decide against him, reason or no reason; but he
    began in a voice of thunder right into the _matter_ of his lecture,
    kept up unflinchingly and unhesitatingly, without a pause, a flow of
    rhetoric such as Dugald Stewart or Thomas Brown, his predecessors,
    never delivered in the same place. Not a word, not a murmur escaped
    his captivated, I ought to say his conquered, audience, and at the
    end they gave him a right-down unanimous burst of applause. Those
    who came to scoff remained to praise.'

And from henceforth the Professor's enemies were silenced.

It can scarcely fail to strike the reader that into Wilson's election to
the professorship there had entered not a little of what was casual, or
the result of impulse; still his lucky star must have ruled at the
moment, for the sequel far more than justified his rashness. As poet he
had been mediocre, and as lawyer 'out of his element,' but there exists
abundant testimony to prove that as lecturer and instructor of youth he
was the right man in the right place. As was the way of his spirited and
generous nature, he threw himself heart and soul into his new work; but
though we are assured that his attainments in that department left
nothing to be desired, it was far less to these than to character and
personality that he owed the success which he undoubtedly won. Certainly
philosophers more profound, and probably men of greater general
attainments have occupied his Chair, but assuredly never one who united
his happy powers of breathing life into the instruction which he
imparted and inspiring his scholars with a keen and quickening
enthusiasm for himself. And that he succeeded so well in this was
perhaps due to the fact that, in addition to his wide and general
humanity, there was about him a certain boyishness, which, when joined
with the dignity and character of manhood, seldom fails in its appeal to

From among the multitude of pupils who cherished grateful and happy
recollections of his class, his biographer has presented us with the
testimony of three. The first of these is Hill Burton, the historian of
Scotland, who warmly acknowledges his kindness, and whose future
eminence the Professor would seem to have divined; for, though at all
times accessible to his pupils and conscientious in the discharge of his
duties, he appears to have made a friend of Burton almost at the first
meeting. Another of his students, Mr Alexander Taylor Innes, has left a
picture of North in his lecture-room, from which, though it belongs by
rights to a later date, I make no apology for quoting here.

    'His appearance in his class-room,' says that gentleman, 'it is far
    easier to remember than to forget. He strode into it with the
    professor's gown hanging loosely on his arms, took a comprehensive
    look over the mob of young faces, laid down his watch so as to be
    out of the reach of his sledge-hammer fist, glanced at the notes of
    his lecture, and then, to the bewilderment of those who had never
    heard him before, looked long and earnestly out of the north window
    towards the spire of the old Tron Kirk; until, having at last got
    his idea, he faced round and uttered it with eye and hand, and voice
    and soul and spirit, and bore the class along with him. As he spoke
    the bright blue eye looked with a strange gaze into vacancy,
    sometimes sparkling with a coming joke, sometimes darkening before a
    rush of indignant eloquence; the tremulous upper lip curving with
    every wave of thought or hint of passion, and the golden-grey hair
    floating on the old man's mighty shoulders--if, indeed, that could
    be called age which seemed but the immortality of a more majestic
    youth. And occasionally, in the finer frenzy of his more imaginative
    passages--as when he spoke of Alexander, clay-cold at Babylon, with
    the world lying conquered around his tomb, or of the Highland hills,
    that pour the rage of cataracts adown their riven cliffs, or even of
    the human mind, with its "primeval granitic truths," the grand old
    face flushed with the proud thought, and the eyes grew dim with
    tears and the magnificent frame quivered with a universal emotion.'

Yet another pupil, the Reverend Dr William Smith, of North Leith, has
thus recorded his impressions:--

    'Of Professor Wilson as a lecturer on Moral Philosophy, it is not
    easy to convey any adequate idea to strangers,--to those who never
    saw his grand and noble form excited into bold and passionate action
    behind that strange, old-fashioned desk, nor heard his manly and
    eloquent voice sounding forth its stirring utterances with all the
    strange and fitful cadence of a music quite peculiar to itself. The
    many-sidedness of the man, and the unconventional character of his
    prelections, combine to make it exceedingly difficult to define the
    nature and grounds of his wonderful power as a lecturer. I am
    certain that if every student who ever attended his class were to
    place on record his impressions of these, the impressions of each
    student would be widely different, and yet they would not, taken
    all together, exhaust the subject, or supply a complete
    representation either of his matter or his manner.... The roll of
    papers on which each lecture was written, which he carried into the
    class-room firmly grasped in his hand, and suddenly unrolled and
    spread out on the desk before him, commencing to read the same
    moment, could not fail to attract the notice of any stranger in his
    class-room. It was composed in large measure of portions of old
    letters--the addresses and postage-marks on which could be easily
    seen as he turned the leaf, yet it was equally evident that the
    writing was neat, careful and distinct; and, except in a more than
    usually dark and murk day, it was read with perfect ease and

And, in reference to a certain specific lecture, the same gentleman
adds, 'The whole soul of the man seemed infused into his subject, and to
be rushing forth with resistless force in the torrent of his
rapidly-rolling words. As he spoke, his whole frame quivered with
emotion. He evidently saw the scene he described, and such was the
sympathetic force of his strong poetic imagination, that he made us,
whether we would or not, see it too. Now dead silence held the class
captive. In the interval of his words you would have heard a pin fall.
Again, at some point, the applause could not be restrained, and was
vociferous.' The writer concludes by stating that he has heard some of
the greatest orators of the day, naming Lords Derby, Brougham,
Lyndhurst; Peel, O'Connell, Sheil, Follett, Chalmers, Caird, Guthrie,
M'Neile; and has heard them 'in their very best styles make some of
their most celebrated appearances; but for popular eloquence, for
resistless force, for the seeming inspiration that swayed the soul, and
the glowing sympathy that entranced the hearts of his entire audience,
that lecture by Professor Wilson far excelled the best of these I ever
listened to.'

This, within its proper limits, is the strongest praise. And, on the
other hand, we must guard against the supposition that these
lectures--highly-coloured and emotional as they undoubtedly
were--consisted solely, or even mainly, of oratorical, or conscious or
unconscious dramatic display. We are assured that this was by no means
the case; that the Professor scorned to sacrifice the serviceable to the
ornamental, never for a moment hesitating to grapple with the central
difficulties of his subject, or shirking the irksome duty of 'hammering'
at them during the greater part of a Session.

Increased financial resources now enabled him to resume occupation of
his beloved Elleray, where a new and larger dwelling-house, suitable to
the accommodation of a family, had by this time been built. There, many
of the intervals of his busy University life were spent in happy
domesticity, and there, in 1825, he was visited by Sir Walter Scott,
whom he fêted with a brilliant regatta on Windermere. It is to these
years of professional duties varied by vacations in the country that his
novels and tales belong. They comprise three volumes, and, as their
characteristics are identical, may be considered side by side. They
consist uniformly of tales of pastoral or humble life, and the author
has recorded that his object in writing them was to speak of the
'elementary feelings of the human soul in isolation, under the light of
a veil of poetry.' The impression which they produce upon a reader of
the present day is that this programme has been but too systematically
adhered to. The stories themselves do not lack interest, and their
motives are at all times human; but they are deliberately localized in
some other world than ours, and if there thence ensues a certain
æsthetic gain, it is accompanied by a more than proportionate loss in
vraisemblance and in moral force. To speak more plainly, if the world of
Wilson's tales is a better world than ours, it yet remains an artificial
one, his stories develope in accordance with the rules of a preconceived
ideal, and a weakening of their interest is the result. For though many
a writer has seen life in a way of his own, Wilson seems to have
deliberately set himself to see it in a way belonging to somebody else.
In fact, throughout this series of little books, he aspires to appear in
the character of a prose Wordsworth; but he is a Wordsworth who has lost
the noble plainness of his original, and though his actual style is less
marred by floridness and redundancy here than elsewhere, still the vices
of prettiness, self-consciousness, artificiality, and sentiment suffice
to stamp his work as an imitation, decadent from the lofty source of its

Of the _Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life_, a volume of short tales
published in 1822, the not impartial author of the biography, writing in
the early sixties, remarks that it has acquired a popularity of the most
enduring kind--a statement which to-day one would hesitate to endorse.
She adds that the stories are 'poems in prose, in which, amid fanciful
scenes and characters, the struggles of humanity are depicted with
pathetic fidelity, and the noblest lessons of virtue and religion are
interwoven, in no imaginary harmony, with the homely realities of
Scottish peasant life.' And subject to the not inconsiderable abatements
noted above, this may no doubt be accepted.

_The Foresters_ (1825) is the history of the family of one Michael
Forester, who is exhibited in turn in his relation as a dutiful son, a
kind self-sacrificing brother, a loving and faithful husband, and a
wise affectionate father; whilst from time to time we are also enabled
to trace his beneficent influence in the affairs of other members of the
small community in which he lives. The tone of the book is peaceful and
soothing; it inculcates cheerfulness and resignation, and holds up for
our edification a picture of that contentment which springs from the
practice of virtue. A group of faultless creatures--for none but the
subordinate characters have any faults--pursue the tenor of their lives
amid fair scenes of nature, and, when sorrow or misfortune falls to
their lot, meet it with an inspiring fortitude. To scoff at such a book
were to supply proof of incompetence in criticism--of which the very
soul consists in sympathy with all that is sincere in spirit and not
inadequate in execution. Yet equally uncritical were it to fail to mark
how far short this story falls of the exquisite spontaneity of such work
as Goldsmith's immortal essay in the same style.

Possibly, however, of the three volumes, the _Trials of Margaret
Lyndsay_ (1823) is that which most forcibly conveys the lessons common
to all--the teaching of Wordsworth, that is to say, as made plain by a
sympathetic disciple. It is the story of a beautiful and virtuous
maiden, the daughter of a printer who, having become imbued with the
doctrines of Tom Paine, falls into evil courses and is imprisoned on a
charge of sedition. His family--consisting of Margaret, her ailing
mother, aged grandmother, and two sisters, one of whom is mentally
afflicted and the other blind--are in consequence reduced to great
poverty, which, supported by their piety, they endure without complaint.
Removing from their country home to a dark and narrow street in
Edinburgh, they open a small school, and for a time with fair success
make head against their troubles. But misfortune follows relentlessly
upon their traces. Lyndsay dies in disgrace, Margaret's sailor
sweetheart perishes by drowning, and one after the other she sees the
members of the little group which surrounds her removed by death. Still
she does not lose heart. Left alone in the world, she is received into
the house of a benevolent young lady, and, there, is happy enough, until
the undesired attentions of the young lady's brother compel her to seek
another home. Journeying alone and on foot, she seeks a refuge with a
distant and estranged relation; by whom she is coldly received, but upon
whose withered heart her gentle influence in time works the most happy
change. And now, at length, it seems that her hardly-won happiness is to
be crowned by marriage to the man of her choice. But what has seemed her
good fortune turns out to be in reality the worst of all her woes; for
the brave but dissolute soldier who has won her heart is discovered to
possess a wife already. Thus from trial to trial do we follow her, until
at last she is left in possession of a very modest share of felicity,
whilst from her story we learn the lesson of the duties of courage and
cheerfulness, the consolations of virtue, and the healing power of

But of course it is not to the department of fiction that Wilson's most
conspicuous literary achievements belong. When once he had settled down
into the swing of his professorial duties, his connexion with
Blackwood's Magazine was resumed, and his biographer truly remarks that
probably no periodical was ever more indebted to one individual than was
'Maga' to Christopher North. And, in passing, it may be stated that
this name, which had at first been assumed by various of the
contributors, was soon exclusively associated with himself. As to the
number, variety, and extent of his contributions, Mrs Gordon has
furnished some curious information. During many years these were never
fewer than on an average two to each number; whilst on more than one
occasion he produced, within the month, almost the entire contents of an
issue. In the year 1830, he contributed in the month of January two
articles; in February four; three in March; one each in April and May;
four in June; three in July; seven (or 116 pages) in August; one in
September; two in October; and one each in November and December--being
thirty articles, or one thousand two hundred columns in the year.
(Against this, however, there must be set off his extremely liberal
quotations from books under review.) The subjects dealt with in the
month of August were the following:--'The Great Moray Floods'; 'The Lay
of the Desert'; 'The Wild Garland, and Sacred Melodies'; 'Wild Fowl
Shooting'; 'Colman's Random Records'; 'Clark on Climate'; 'Noctes, No.
51.' In the year following, by the month of September he had already
contributed twenty articles, five of which were in the August number.
And, finally, in 1833, he wrote no fewer than fifty-four articles, or
upwards of two thousand four hundred closely-printed columns, on
politics, and general literature! Nor, when the extraordinary influence
and popularity enjoyed by Blackwood's Magazine at that period, and the
fact that these were mainly due to Christopher North are borne in mind,
will these labours run any risk of being confounded with those of the
ordinary literary hack. At the same time it may be necessary to caution
the reader against the oft-repeated error that Wilson was at any time
editor of the Magazine.

Of his habits of composition at this the most brilliant and prolific
period of his career, his daughter furnishes the following account, from
which it will be seen that his literary procedure was ordered with
complete disregard to comfort. He was now living in a house which he had
built for himself in Gloucester Place, which was to be his home for the
remainder of his life.

    'The amazing rapidity with which he wrote, caused him too often to
    delay his work to the very last moment, so that he almost always
    wrote under compulsion, and every second of time was of consequence.
    Under such a mode of labour there was no hour left for relaxation.
    When regularly in for an article for Blackwood, his whole strength
    was put forth, and it may be said he struck into life what he had to
    do at a blow. He at these times began to write immediately after
    breakfast, that meal being despatched with a swiftness commensurate
    with the necessity of the case before him. He then shut himself into
    his study, with an express command that no one was to disturb him,
    and he never stirred from his writing-table until perhaps the
    greater part of a _Noctes_ was written, or some paper of equal
    brilliancy and interest completed. The idea of breaking his labour
    by taking a constitutional walk never entered his thoughts for a
    moment. Whatever he had to write, even though a day or two were to
    keep him close at work, he never interrupted his pen, saving to take
    his night's rest, and a late dinner served to him in his study. The
    hour for that meal was on these occasions nine o'clock; his dinner
    then consisted invariably of a boiled fowl, potatoes, and a glass of
    water--he allowed himself no wine. After dinner he resumed his pen
    till midnight, when he retired to bed, not unfrequently to be
    disturbed by an early printer's boy.'

His rapidly turned-out 'copy' would soon cover the table at which he
wrote, after which the floor about his feet would be strewn with pages
of his MS. 'thick as autumnal leaves in Vallombrosa.' Nor did he, even
in the depth of winter, indulge in a fire in his study, or in any other
illumination than that afforded by a tallow candle set in a kitchen

In the meantime he had not lost his love of the country and of country
pursuits, and we hear of holidays spent at Innerleithen, in Ettrick
Forest--where he rented Thirlestane--near Langholm, where his son John
was established in a farm, in the Highlands, and in a cruise with an
'Experimental Squadron' of the Navy, during which he was accommodated
with a swinging cot in the cockpit of H.M.S. _Vernon_. As is the case in
the lives of so many celebrated men, these years, though the most
fruitful, were not the most eventful of his life, and therefore call for
less detailed examination than those which had preceded them. His
character was formed, he was in the full swing of his labours, and the
best key to the history of this period is to be found in the study of
the _Noctes_, the _Recreations_, and the other works which it produced.

His heroic literary activity was continued down to 1840, in which year
he was attacked by a paralytic affection of the right hand, which made
writing irksome to him, so that for the next five years he contributed
but two papers to the magazine. This ailment was the first warning he
received that his wonderful constitution and great physical strength
were subject to the universal law. But already the hand of death had
been busy among his circle. In 1834 he had lost his esteemed friend
Blackwood, in 1835 the Ettrick Shepherd had followed the publisher,
whilst in 1837 he sustained the supreme bereavement by losing his
beloved and devoted wife. His grief on this occasion was profound and
lasting, and a touching picture of its uncontrollable outbursts in the
presence of his class has been preserved. There, if anything occurred to
renew the memory of his sorrow, he would pause for a moment or two in
his lecture, 'fling himself forward on the desk, bury his face in his
hands, and while his whole frame heaved with visible emotion, would weep
and sob like a very child.' So, in his work and his play, his joy and
his sorrow, the whole man was cast in an heroic mould. And, with that
singular but sincere, though oft misunderstood, fantasticness, which in
imaginative natures demands the outward visible sign, as long as he
lived he continued with scrupulous care the habit of wearing white
cambric weepers on the sleeves of his coat or gown, out of respect for
the memory of his faithful partner.

The shadows were already falling thick about the lion-like head of the
old Professor, and we have now to acknowledge that between his last
years and the rest of his life there exists a discrepancy as regrettable
as it is unexpected. The highest of animal spirits had been his through
the brilliant promise of youth and the happy activity and domesticity of
maturity, and when we remember his robust constitution and mellow
philosophy, we naturally look forward to see him enjoy a green and
peaceful old age. But such prognostications are apt to be fallacious,
and the fact stands that his old age was a melancholy one. Nor was its
melancholy of that kind, by no means incompatible with a large measure
of serenity, which is directly traceable to evils common to all men
whose years are prolonged; it was a peculiar despondency, profound and
unexplained. Indeed the last pages of the _Life_ are sad reading, and
we pass hastily over them to the end.

The first symptom of the alteration in his character of which we hear is
his sense of loneliness. There was no occasion for him to be lonely, for
he was rich in affectionate children and grand-children, yet in spite of
these his habits insensibly became solitary, he grew to dislike being
intruded upon, and at last was seldom seen in public. Still for a time
his broad-brimmed hat with its deep crape band, his flowing locks, and
his stately figure buttoned in its black coat, continued to be welcome
sights in the streets of Edinburgh, and still he continued, without
intermission, his labours among his class, until, in the winter of 1850,
an alarming seizure which occurred in his retiring-room at the
University compelled him to absent himself from his duties. In the
following year he finally retired from the Professorship, which he had
held for thirty years, his services being recognized by Government with
a pension of £300 a year.

He now felt that his usefulness in life was over, and from henceforth
his despondency deepened. We read that 'something of a settled
melancholy rested on his spirit, and for days he would scarcely utter a
word or allow a smile to lighten up his face;' and, again, that 'long
and mournful meditation took possession of him; days of silence revealed
the depth of his suffering, and it was only by fits and starts that
anything like composure visited his heart.' He himself speaks of his
'hopeless misery.' 'Nothing,' he said to his daughter, 'can give you an
idea of how utterly wretched I am; my mind is going, I feel it.' And,
indeed, it seems that a gradual mental decline had set in. But he was
spared its progress. On the 1st April 1854, at his house in Gloucester
Place, he was attacked by paralysis, and there two days later, mourned
by an almost patriarchal family of descendants, he breathed his last.

In the details of his daily life, Wilson was accustomed to follow his
own inclinations more than 'tis given to most men to do, his robust
individuality disdaining the minor fashions and conventions of the day,
whilst his native independence, and still more his love of home, made
him completely indifferent to what is known as social success. It is not
in the 'great world,' therefore, that we must seek for the traits which
characterize him. But a man is what he is at home, and within his own
sphere Wilson's sympathies were of the widest and deepest. He was adored
by every member of his large family, whilst his own large-hearted
affection embraced all, down to--or, as perhaps I should say,
remembering his special love for young children, up to the youngest babe
in the household. Such anecdotes, too, as those told by his daughter of
his generous treatment of his defaulting uncle, of his relations with
his superannuated henchman, Billy Balmer, or of his sitting up all night
at the bedside of an old female servant who was dying, 'arranging with
gentle but awkward hand the pillow beneath her head,' or cheering her
with encouraging words,--these speak more for the genuine humanity of
the man than a thousand triumphs gained in an artificial world.

He also shared with Sir Walter Scott the love of birds and animals of
all kinds, from the dog, Rover--one of many dogs--who, crawling upstairs
in its last moments, died with its paw in its master's hand, to the
sparrow which inhabited his study for eleven years, and which, boldly
perching on his shoulder, would sometimes carry off a hair from his
shaggy head to build its nest. In these matters animals have an instinct
which rarely misleads them, and that they had good grounds for
recognizing a friend in the Professor is proved by the following
incident. One afternoon Wilson, then far advanced in life, was observed
remonstrating with a carter who was driving an overladen horse through
the streets of Edinburgh--

    'The carter, exasperated at this interference, took up his whip in a
    threatening way, as if with intent to strike the Professor. In an
    instant that well-nerved hand twisted it from the coarse fist of the
    man, as if it had been a straw, and walking quietly up to the cart
    he unfastened its _trams_, and hurled the whole weight of coals into
    the street. The rapidity with which this was done left the driver of
    the cart speechless. Meanwhile, poor Rosinante, freed from his
    burden, crept slowly away, and the Professor, still clutching the
    whip in one hand, and leading the horse in the other, proceeded
    through Moray Place to deposit the wretched animal in better keeping
    than that of his driver.'

'This little episode,' adds the writer, 'is delightfully characteristic
of his impulsive nature, and the benevolence of his heart.'

Whilst human nature remains what it is, traits of such broad and genial
humanity as this are never out of date; but when we turn from the writer
to the writings, it is to find the case altered, and ourselves brought
face to face with the devastations of time. In the sense of great and
immediate effect produced by his work, Wilson was unquestionably the
most brilliant, as--excepting the too-fertile Galt--he was the most
prolific, of the group of distinguished authors who are here associated
with the publishing-house of Blackwood; yet in vitality, in enduring
freshness, such a novel as _The Inheritance_, such a sea-piece as _Tom
Cringle's Log_, not to speak of such a character-study as _The Provost_,
to-day leaves his work far behind. Of course this is in large measure
due to the nature, not to the defects, of that work. North's most
distinctive writings were not creative, and in general it is only
creative work that lives. The critic's reputation is transitory; Time's
revenge deals swiftly, hardly by it; it has none of the
phoenix-property of the creator's. Of all our distinguished critical
reputations of the last hundred years or so, how many now survive?
To-day the critic Johnson is remembered chiefly for blindness, the
critic Jeffrey for overweening self-confidence when he was wrong, the
critic Macaulay for idle rhetoric and for consistent failure to strike
the mark. The appreciator Lamb is almost alone in holding his own. And
there is not one reader in a thousand who has time, or cares, for the
purely historical task of looking closer, of studying these eminent
writers in relation to the age in which they lived, and of estimating
accordingly the services which they performed. Christopher North, in so
far as he was a critic, has not escaped the common doom. Scattered over
the pages of the _Noctes_, there are no doubt some shrewd and pregnant
observations upon writers and upon literature. But these sparse grains
of salt are not enough to preserve the general fabric from decay; whilst
the more numerous errors of judgment in which his work abounds require
no pointing out. As a reviewer North was not lacking in discrimination,
as may be seen in the historical though generally misconceived essay on
Tennyson; and, granted a really good opportunity--as in the case of that
completion of _Christabel_ which was to Martin Tupper the pastime of
some idle days--no man knew better how to avail himself of it. The
pages signed by him also afford abundant evidence of the gentleness,
generosity, and enthusiasm of his spirit. But when so much has been
said, what remains to be added? Of stimulus to the reader, of
conspicuous insight into the subject discussed, we find but little.

Turning to the essays, collected under the title of 'Recreations of
Christopher North,' we sometimes see the author to better advantage, as,
for instance, when he dons his 'Sporting Jacket,' and recounts in
mock-heroic style the Sportsman's Progress. The subject was one which
keenly appealed to him, rousing all the enthusiasm of his perfervid
nature, and some very bright and characteristic pages are the result.

His hero is fishing, and has hooked a fish.

    'But the salmon has grown sulky, and must be made to spring to the
    plunging stone. There, suddenly, instinct with new passion, she
    shoots out of the foam like a bar of silver bullion; and, relapsing
    into the flood, is in another moment at the very head of the
    waterfall! Give her the butt--give her the butt--or she is gone for
    ever with the thunder into ten fathom deep!--Now comes the trial of
    your tackle--and when was Phin ever known to fail at the edge of
    cliff or cataract? Her snout is southwards--right up the middle of
    the main current of the hill-born river, as if she would seek its
    very source where she was spawned! She still swims swift, and
    strong, and deep--and the line goes steady, boys, steady--stiff and
    steady as a Tory in the roar of Opposition. There is yet an hour's
    play in her dorsal fin--danger in the flap of her tail--and yet may
    her silver shoulder shatter the gut against a rock. Why, the river
    was yesterday in spate, and she is fresh run from the sea. All the
    lesser waterfalls are now level with the flood, and she meets with
    no impediment or obstruction--the coast is clear--no tree-roots
    here--no floating branches--for during the night they have all been
    swept down to the salt loch. _In medio tutissimus ibis_--ay, now you
    feel she begins to fail--the butt tells now every time you deliver
    your right. What! another mad leap! yet another sullen plunge! She
    seems absolutely to have discovered, or rather to be an
    impersonation of, the Perpetual Motion. Stand back out of the way,
    you son of a sea-cook!--you in the tattered blue breeches, with the
    tail of your shirt hanging out. Who the devil sent you all here, ye
    vagabonds?--Ha! Watty Ritchie, my man, is that you? God bless your
    honest laughing phiz! What, Watty, would you think of a Fish like
    that about Peebles? Tam Grieve never gruppit sae heavy a ane since
    first he belanged to the Council.--Curse that collie! Ay! well done,
    Watty! Stone him to Stobbo. Confound these stirks--if that white
    one, with caving horns, kicking heels, and straight-up tail, come
    bellowing by between us and the river, then "Madam! all is lost,
    except honour!" If we lose this Fish at six o'clock, then suicide at
    seven. Our will is made--ten thousand to the Foundling--ditto to the
    Thames Tunnel----ha--ha--my Beauty! Methinks we could fain and fond
    kiss thy silver side, languidly lying afloat on the foam as if all
    further resistance now were vain, and gracefully thou wert
    surrendering thyself to death! No faith in female--she trusts to the
    last trial of her tail--sweetly workest thou, O Reel of Reels! and
    on thy smooth axle spinning sleep'st, even, as Milton describes her,
    like our own worthy planet. Scrope--Bainbridge--Maule--princes among
    Anglers--oh! that you were here! Where the devil is Sir Humphrey? At
    his retort? By mysterious sympathy--far off at his own Trows, the
    Kerss feels that we are killing the noblest Fish whose back ever
    rippled the surface of deep or shallow in the Tweed. Tom Purdy
    stands like a seer, entranced in glorious vision, beside turreted
    Abbotsford. Shade of Sandy Govan! Alas! alas! Poor Sandy--why on thy
    pale face that melancholy smile!--Peter! The Gaff! The Gaff! Into
    the eddy she sails, sick and slow, and almost with a
    swirl--whitening as she nears the sand--there she has it--struck
    right into the shoulder, fairer than that of Juno, Diana, Minerva,
    or Venus--and lies at last in all her glorious length and breadth of
    beaming beauty, fit prey for giant or demigod angling before the

Nor are his pictures of Coursing and of Fox-Hunting less good. But anon
his overladen style crops out again, as in this passage, where he has
just discharged his gun into the midst of a flock of wild-duck afloat
upon a loch:--

    'Now is the time for the snow-white, here and there ebon-spotted
    Fro--who with burning eyes has lain couched like a spaniel, his
    quick breath ever and anon trembling on a passionate whine, to
    bounce up, as if discharged by a catapulta, and first with immense
    and enormous high-and-far leaps, and then, fleet as any greyhound,
    with a breast-brushing brattle down the brae, to dash, all-fours,
    like a flying squirrel fearlessly from his tree, many yards into the
    bay with one splashing and momentarily disappearing spang, and then,
    head and shoulders and broad line of back and rudder tail, all
    elevated above or level with the wavy water-line, to mouth first
    that murdered mawsey of a mallard, lying as still as if she had been
    dead for years, with her round, fat, brown bosom towards
    heaven--then that old Drake, in a somewhat similar posture, but in
    more gorgeous apparel, his belly being of a pale grey, and his back
    delicately pencilled and crossed with numberless waved dusky
    lines--precious prize to one skilled like us in the angling
    art--next--nobly done, glorious Fro--that cream-colour-crowned
    widgeon, with bright rufus chestnut breast, separated from the neck
    by loveliest waved ash-brown and white lines, while our mind's eye
    feasteth on the indescribable and changeable green beauty-spot of
    his wings--and now, if we mistake not, a Golden Eye, best described
    by his name--finally, that exquisite little duck the Teal; yes,
    poetical in its delicately pencilled spots as an Indian shell, and
    when kept to an hour, roasted to a minute, gravied in its own wild
    richness, with some few other means and appliances to boot, carved
    finely--most finely--by razor-like knife, in a hand skilful to
    dissect and cunning to divide--tasted by a tongue and palate both
    healthily pure as the dewy petal of a morning rose--swallowed by a
    gullet felt gradually to be extending itself in its intense
    delight--and received into a stomach yawning with greed and
    gratitude,--Oh! surely the thrice-blessed of all web-footed birds;
    the apex of Apician luxury; and able, were anything on the face of
    this feeble earth able, to detain a soul, on the very brink of fate,
    a short quarter of an hour from an inferior Elysium!'

In point of style could anything well be much worse? Even the far-famed
_Noctes Ambrosianæ_, by much the most celebrated of Wilson's writings,
though they may still be dipped into with pleasure, will scarcely stand
critical examination nowadays. Of course, from their very nature, they
have come to labour under the disadvantage of being largely concerned
with topics and persons of long since exhausted interest. And, again,
their convivial setting, which pleased in its own day, is now probably
by many looked upon askance, and that, it must be confessed, not without
some show of excuse. If this were all, it would be well. As we have
seen, Wilson wrote his dialogues hastily and presumably wrote them for
the moment, so that to judge them as permanent contributions to
literature is to judge them by a standard contemplated not by the
author, but by his injudicious critics. Amongst these, Professor
Ferrier, in his introductory critique to the authoritative edition of
the _Noctes_, published forty years ago, most confidently claims that
they possess solid and lasting qualities, and in the front rank of these
qualities he places humour and dramatic power. Now to us, except in
outward form, the _Noctes_ appear almost anything rather than dramatic;
they are even less dramatic than the conversation-pieces of Thomas Love
Peacock. It is true that of the two principal talkers one speaks Scotch
and the other English; but in every other respect they might exchange
almost any of their longest and most important speeches without the
smallest loss to characterisation. The same authority (I use the word in
a purely empirical sense) enthusiastically lauds the creation of The
Shepherd; and upon him it is true that, by dint of insistence on two or
three superficial mannerisms, a certain shadowy individuality has been
conferred. But surely it is needless to point out that a label is not a
personality, and that this sort of thing is something quite apart from
dramatic creation. The critic then goes on to say that 'in wisdom the
Shepherd equals the Socrates of Plato; in humour he surpasses the
Falstaff of Shakespeare.' The last part of the sentence strikes us as
even more surprising than the first, for had our opinion of the
imaginary revellers at Ambrose's been asked we should have had to
confess that, though they possess high spirits in abundance and a
certain sense of the ludicrous, of humour in the true sense--of the
humour, I won't say of a Sterne, but of a Michael Scott--all are alike
entirely destitute. And one may even add that with persons of equally
high spirits such is almost always the case. Well then, it may be asked,
if they lack both humour and dramatic power, in what qualities, pray, do
these world-famed dialogues excel? The answer is, of course, that in
brilliant intellectual and rhetorical display the _Noctes_ are supreme.
Yet here, also, there is often about them something too much of
deliberate and self-conscious fine-writing. And yet, even to-day, when
tastes have changed and fashions altered, the exuberance of their
eloquence is hard to withstand, and in reading them we sometimes almost
believe that we are touched when in reality we are merely dazzled. This
dazzling quality is not one of the highest in literature: with the
single possible exception of Victor Hugo, the greatest writers have
always been without it. But it pervades, floods, overwhelms the
_Noctes_. It is a somewhat barren, and unendearing quality at best; yet,
after all, it is an undoubted manifestation of intellectual power; and
whatever it may be worth, let us give Wilson full credit for having
excelled in it.

One last word. The literary workman has no more unpleasing task to
perform than that of so-called destructive criticism; but if Wilson
himself, as apart from his writings, be indeed, as we believe him to be,
an immortal figure, by releasing him from the burden of ill-judged
praise which like a mill-stone hangs about his neck, and by setting him
in his true light, we shall have done him no disservice. On the poetic
imagination, then, he looms as one heroically proportioned; whilst more
practical thinkers will cherish his memory as that of a most brilliant
contributor to the periodical literature of his day, a great inspirer of
youth, and a standard and pattern to his countrymen of physical and
intellectual manhood.


[1] It is distinctly stated in the _Life_, vol. 1, p. 180, that the loss
of fortune was complete; but a subsequent statement is somewhat at
variance with this.

[2] Letter quoted by Mrs Gordon.


Through life the subject of this sketch was unfortunate; nor has
posthumous justice redressed the balance in his favour. His
fellow-countrymen and fellow-craftsmen, Scott and Smollett--with whom,
if below them, he is not unworthy to be mentioned--have long since been
accorded high rank among the great novelists of English literature: Galt
remains in obscurity. And yet it is easy to understand how his qualities
have failed of recognition. For though his character was in the ordinary
sense of the word exemplary, his genius extraordinary, yet in either
there was something lacking. Indeed the study of his life and works
reveals almost as much to be blamed as to be praised.

       *       *       *       *       *

John Galt was born at Irvine, in Ayrshire, on the 2nd May, 1779, in that
humbler station of society, which--in so far as it dispenses with
screens and concealments, and so brings a child the sooner face to face
with life as it is--may be considered favourable to genius. In childhood
he was of infirm constitution and somewhat effeminate disposition--defects
which were, however, in due course amply rectified. At this time his
passion for flowers and for music gave evidence of a sensibility which,
if one is loth to condemn it as unwholesome, is at least of doubtful
augury for happiness in a workaday world. To these affections he joined
the love of ballads and story-books--in the midst of which he would
often pass the day in lounging upon his bed. Nor did oral tradition fail
him; for, frequenting the society of the indigent old women of the
locality, from their lips he would drink in to his heart's content that
lore of a departing age which he afterwards turned to such good account
in his works. To his own mother, whom nature had gifted with remarkable
mental powers, and in particular with a strong sense of humour and a
faculty of original expression, his debt was admitted to be great. Not
unnaturally Mrs Galt at first strenuously opposed her son's bookish
propensities, though it is recorded that she lived to regret having done
so. The father, who by profession was master of a West Indiaman, though,
in his son's words, 'one of the best as he was one of the handsomest of
men,' does not appear in mind and force of character to have risen above

The most striking incident in the childhood of the future novelist is
his association with the 'Buchanites,' a religious sect who took their
name from a demented female, Mrs Buchan. It happened that this person
had been much impressed by the preaching of Mr White, the Relief
Minister of Irvine, and had followed him from Glasgow to that place,
where some weak-headed members of the congregation mistook her ravings
for inspiration, and made her warmly welcome. White himself participated
in their delusion, and when authoritatively required to dismiss his
adherent, chose rather to resign his church. From this time meetings
would be held in a tent, generally in the night time, and there Mrs
Buchan would hold forth, announcing herself to be the woman spoken of
in the twelfth chapter of the Revelations, and Mr White as the man-child
whom she had brought forth. The proceedings attracted public attention,
rioting followed, and it was found advisable to expel the evangelists
from the town. Some forty or fifty disciples accompanied their exodus,
who sang as they went, and declared themselves _en route_ for the New
Jerusalem, and in the company of the crack-brained enthusiasts went the
infant Galt, his imagination captivated by the strangeness of their
doings. He had not proceeded far, however, ere that sensible woman, his
mother, pounced upon him and bore him off home. Nevertheless the wild
psalmody of the occasion abode in his memory, and when in later life, in
his fine novel of _Ringan Gilhaize_, he came to describe the
Covenanters, the recollection stood him in good stead. It is also
recorded of him that, after reading Pope's Iliad, he was so deeply
impressed by the book as to kneel then and there, and humbly and
fervently pray that it might be vouchsafed to him to accomplish
something equally great. It must not be thought, however, that in him
imagination predominated to the exclusion of everything else. On the
contrary, to the love of what was beautiful or strange, he united a
pronounced mechanical and engineering turn, which led him, among other
undertakings, to construct an Æolian harp, and to devise schemes for
improving the water-supply of Greenock, the town to which his family had
in the meantime removed. Thus was first manifested that diversity of
faculty which enabled him in later life with equal ease to pourtray men
and manners and to found cities and subdue wastes.

Meantime his education, which had been begun at home and continued at
the grammar-school of Irvine, was carried on at Greenock, where it was
supplemented with advantage by independent reading in a well-chosen
public library. In Greenock, also, where he spent some fifteen years, he
was fortunate in having as associates a group of young men whom the
spirit of intellectual emulation characterised, and of whom more than
one was destined to attain distinction. Among these were Eckford, who is
referred to as the future architect and builder of the United States'
Navy, and Spence, afterwards the author of a treatise on Logarithmic
Transcendents. But undoubtedly young Galt's most congenial companion was
one James Park, a youth of elegant and scholarly tastes, who shared in
his passion for the _belles-lettres_, and criticised in a friendly
spirit the attempts which he was now beginning to make as a poet. Would
that this young man's influence had been exerted to greater effect, for
he seems to have been just the sort of mentor of whom Galt stood in
need, and whose discipline throughout life he missed! 'He seemed,' says
the _Autobiography_, 'to consider excellence in literature as of a more
sacred nature than ever I did, who looked upon it but as a means of
influence.' A means of influence! One would gladly believe this but the
querulous insincere utterance of a disappointed man. Unhappily evidence
is but too abundant that Galt was consistently lacking in the respect
due to his high calling. Among his earliest poetical efforts was a
tragedy on the life of Mary Queen of Scots, and in course of time he
began to contribute to the local newspaper and to the _Scots Magazine_.
With Park and other young men he also joined in essay and debating
societies, a recreation which they varied by walking-tours to
Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, the Border Counties, and elsewhere. Before this
time he had been placed in the Custom House at Greenock, to acquire some
training as a clerk, whence in due course he was transferred to work in
a mercantile office. It was the period of the resumption of the war with
France, and he took a leading part in the movement for forming local
companies of volunteer riflemen.

This period of his adolescence strikes one as having been unusually
prolonged. It came to a sudden and violent end. It appears that about
this time a set of purse-proud upstarts, who stood much in need of
schooling in more ways than one, had made their appearance in Glasgow.
In relation to some matter of business, one of these had addressed an
insolent letter to the firm with which Galt was connected. It was
delivered into his hands. On discovering its contents his indignation
was boundless, and he proceeded to action with all the impetuosity of a
Hotspur. Missing the writer in Glasgow, he straightway tracked him to
his quarters in Edinburgh, and having bolted the door of the room in
which he sat, forced from him a written apology. So much was
satisfactory; but the turmoil excited in the young man's brain did not
subside immediately. He did not return to his employment, but, after
spending some time in an indeterminate sort of fashion, set off for
London 'to look about him.' In the _Autobiography_, written when he was
old and an invalid, all this is detailed in a loose and cursory manner.
There is no reference to emotion or the inner life, and the style is
that of one who, having written many books, is grown very tired of
writing. To the reader this is the reverse of stimulating; yet whatever
may be stated and whatever kept back, we may feel sure that, in so
emotional and imaginative a man, an intense inner life must have
existed, and one in all probability not of the smoothest. At the time of
leaving home, however, the writer acknowledges to having felt
exceedingly depressed. Then follows a description of sensations
experienced, whilst horses were being changed, on the road between
Greenock and Glasgow. His father accompanied him on his journey.

'I walked back on the fields,' says the young man, 'alone, with no
buoyant heart. The view towards Argyleshire, from the brow of the hill,
is perhaps one of the most picturesque in the world. I have since seen
some of the finest scenes, but none superior. At the time it seemed as
if some pensive influence rested on the mountains, and silently allured
me back; and this feeling was superstitiously augmented by my happening
in the same moment to turn round and behold the eastern sky, which lay
in the direction of my journey, sullenly overcast. On returning to the
inn, the horses had been some time in harness, and my father was a
little impatient at my absence, but conjecturing what was passing in my
mind, said little; nor did we speak much to each other till the waiter
of the inn opened the door for us to alight at Glasgow. In truth I was
not blind to the perils which awaited me, but my obstinacy was too
indulgently considered.' The above reads like a passage from _The Omen_.
In it we see the true Galt, or at least one side of him--brooding,
fantastic, the devotee of mysticism, discerning, at this momentous point
in his career, the finger of fate where another would have seen but an
ordinary process of nature!

As to the time he now spent in London, beyond an incidental admission
that it was one of the least satisfactory periods of his career, Galt
does not take us into his confidence. One guesses that had he consulted
his own feelings only, he would have enjoyed the luxury of writing
Confessions. But, after all, he was a Scotchman, though an unusual
variety of the class, and Scotchmen do not indulge in luxuries of that
kind. His Autobiography, when it came to be written, was in the main a
piece of book-making; certainly it has nothing of the confessional
character, and, indeed, what of self-revelation he at this time supplies
must be sought in his letters to Park.

He had brought with him to the metropolis a goodly number of
introductions, which procured him much civility but nothing more. Whilst
waiting, however, to see what was to be done for him in the shape of
practical assistance, he employed himself in preparing for the press a
poem which had been inspired by his studies in antiquarianism, and
written some time earlier. The title of this production was _The Battle
of Largs_, and its theme the invasion of Scotland by Haco, King of
Norway, in the year 1263,--a subject which had already prompted the
Titanic suggestions of Lady Wardlaw's _Hardyknute_. The poem, as it
survives in extracts, is turgid, crude, and immature, exhibiting the
exact reverse of what is desirable in poetry--to wit, a great
expenditure of means to produce a very small result. For 'tis in vain we
are assured that desperate deeds are doing if we find it possible to
remain completely unmoved. A strain of somewhat similar kind was
afterwards taken up by Motherwell, and by Tom Stoddart in the unbridled
fantasy of his only half-serious 'Necromaunt,' called _The Death-Wake_.
To do Galt justice, he quickly realised that he had mounted the wrong
Pegasus, and almost immediately suppressed his poem. He acted wisely,
and here once for all it may be admitted that, in the specialised sense
of the term, he was no poet. Fancy, imagination, dramatic power, and
many another fine attribute of the poet he of course possessed in high
degree, but, whether because lacking the 'accomplishment of verse,' or
for some other reason, he failed to give expression to these gifts in
poetry. Metre seems to have impeded rather than assisted him, and he is
most poetic when writing in prose--a conclusion suggested by the poem
now under consideration, and borne out by his _Star of Destiny_, his
posthumous _Demon of Destiny_, and his poetic plays. From his own frank
avowal that, when drawing up a list of his works for publication, an
epic[3] was overlooked, we judge that not much of the labour of the file
was expended upon his verse.

He waited for some months in London, whiling away the time, as he
pretends, by dabbling in astrology, alchemy, and other studies which
served to feed his love of the occult, and then at last, in despair,
decided to shift for himself. This led to his entering into partnership
with a young Scotchman named McLachlan, in a business which, for
reasons unknown, is mentioned only under the vague name of a 'commercial
enterprise.' Whatever may have been its nature, for Galt this
undertaking started badly, and after a period of better success, at the
end of three years ended in bankruptcy. The precise steps by which this
final consummation was reached are carefully detailed by Galt, yet to
minds unversed in commercial procedure they remain very far from clear.
In general terms, however, we gather that the failure was due to the
dishonesty of a debtor, occurring in conjunction with a succession of
financial misfortunes.

Having failed in commerce, Galt's next thought was of the Law. He
entered himself of Lincoln's Inn, and whilst waiting to be formally
called to the Bar, went abroad in the hope of improving his health,
which was not good at the time. He tells us that by this time he had
realised that, without friends, there is no such thing as 'getting on'
in life possible. These he was conscious of lacking, and when he now
turned his back on England it was, in his own words, half desiring that
no event might occur to make him ever wish to return. He betook himself
in the first instance to Gibraltar, where, in the well-known Garrison
Library, he had his first glimpse of a young man whose feelings, had
they been revealed, might have been found to tally strangely with his
own. Lord Byron, at that time known only as the author of a mordant
satire, was starting upon the tour which was so soon to make him famous,
and as Galt had him and Hobhouse for fellow-travellers to Malta and
Sicily, he got to know them fairly well. It is noticeable that his first
impressions of the Pilgrim betray prejudice; and that long afterwards,
when he was called on to be his biographer, he complains that Moore's
portrait reveals only the sunny side of his lordship's character, and is
'too radiant and conciliatory.'

After visiting Malta and Sicily, Galt proceeded to Athens. His active
mind, abhorring idleness, was soon at work again. It may be remembered
that this was the period of Buonaparte's endeavour to enforce his
nefarious Berlin and Milan Decrees, which had been designed with the
object of annihilating British commerce. Our traveller now conceived the
idea that they might be evaded by introducing British goods into the
Continent through Turkey. And here it may be noted that his biographers
have united in representing this scheme as the object of his going
abroad, whereas he himself distinctly, though incidentally, states that
he left England for the benefit of his health,[4] and that his scheme
first occurred to him when at Tripolizza.[5] This fact, immaterial in
itself, is of importance as affording evidence that his circumstances at
the time were fairly easy; for his travels must have been costly, yet
they do not appear to have brought him in any return until after his
written account of them had been published, when he was recouped for the
whole, or a part, of his outlay.

In pursuance of the newly-devised scheme, it was now his object to find
a locality where a depôt of goods might be established. For this
purpose, after visiting various out of the way places, he selected
Mykoni, an island of the Archipelago, which possessed an excellent
harbour, where he acquired a large building, suited for a storehouse,
which had originally been erected by Orloff at a time when the Empress
Catherine the Second had designs on these islands. Hence, in the summer
of 1810, he returned to Malta, to make known and to develope his scheme,
and whilst awaiting the result of communications with England, he filled
up the time with further travels, visiting Constantinople and Widdin.
Turkey was now in arms against Russia, and in the course of his present
journey, which was performed in wintry weather, he saw something of the
hardships as well as of the pomp of war. Without presuming to question
that he kept business in view--as possibly also did George Borrow in his
rambles in Spain--we note the fact that in his own account of his
travels the details of his specific labours are kept well in the
background, if not indeed out of sight. At the worst his journeys, which
led him through some singularly wild and little known parts of the
globe, by bringing him acquainted with many picturesque and unusual
characters, must have been rich in suggestions of adventure and romance;
and, indeed, there is evidence that some of his experience of primitive
and martial life acquired at this time was afterwards turned to account
in painting similar life at home for his historical novels. His
expectations of patronage for his project were, however, disappointed,
and he resolved to return without delay to England, in the hope of there
finding support for it. In the meantime literature had not been entirely
neglected. Keeping his eyes well about him, he had amassed the notes on
which were subsequently based his _Voyages_, and _Letters from the
Levant_; whilst a translation from Goldoni, executed in a single wet day
at Missolonghi, and published in the 'New British Theatre' as _The Word
of Honour_, together with the tragedy of _Maddalen_, composed whilst
undergoing quarantine at Messina, belong also to this time.

Back in London, he had the mortification of finding his commercial
scheme--as to the presumptive value of which one would wish to have
specialist opinion--regarded coldly by the Foreign Office, whilst at the
same time he seems to have satisfied himself of the inutility of
proceeding further in his legal career. But, whatever may have been his
defects, want of resourcefulness was certainly not among them. An
outburst of literary industry followed, and the year 1812 saw the
publication of his Voyages and Travels, his Life of Wolsey, and his
Tragedies. But in justice to one who has sins enough of slipshod
composition to answer for, it must be stated that most of the Life of
Wolsey--one of the most carefully composed of his books--had been
written at an earlier date.

Of his _Voyages and Travels in the years 1809, 1810, and 1811,
containing statistical, commercial, and miscellaneous observations on
Gibraltar, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Cerigo and Turkey_, a competent
critic remarks that, 'while containing some interesting matter, they are
disfigured by grave faults of style and by rash judgments.' The public
received them favourably, but a contemptuous notice in the _Quarterly
Review_ was warmly resented by the author.

It was whilst standing in the quadrangle of Christchurch College, when
on a visit to Oxford, that Galt had conceived the idea of his _Life of
Wolsey_. He had worked hard at the book before he went abroad, and he
claimed that it embodied new views, and the results of much original
research. Notwithstanding this, the _Quarterly Review_ assailed him
again, and this time so libellously as to lead him to think of a
criminal prosecution. He, however, dropped the idea, with the result
that when his Tragedies saw the light, the persecution--now as in the
case of the Travels conducted by Croker in person--was renewed with
additional pungency. In the general form of his _Maddalen, Agamemnon,
Lady Macbeth, Antonia, and Clytemnestra_, the author followed Alfieri,
whose works he had studied abroad and admired enthusiastically, though
with reservations. The plays are of a tentative character, and certainly
do not deserve Scott's condemnation as the 'worst ever seen.' _Lady
Macbeth_, which the author thought the 'best or the worst' of the
series, though not lacking in imaginative touches, is without
progression or story, and besides provoking irresistible comparisons,
fails by ending just where it began. And whilst on the subject of Galt's
drama, we may mention _The Witness_, the most important of several plays
contributed by him to the 'New British Theatre,' a publication
undertaken by Colbourn at his instigation. Here the dramatist had a
powerfully dramatic if also a somewhat inconsequent story to work
upon--a subject, in fact, after his own heart. Unfortunately the
execution of the piece is hasty, and by no means equal to its
conception. It was performed for some nights in Edinburgh as _The
Appeal_, when Scott wrote an Epilogue for it, said to be the only piece
of humorous verse existing from his pen. Galt himself rehandled the
subject in narrative form, under the title of _The Unguarded Hour_.

He now embarked on a journalistic enterprise, assuming for a time the
editorship of the _Political Review_. But the work did not suit him.
After about a month he began to tire of it, and it was soon abandoned.
He also contributed lives of Hawke, Byron, and Rodney, to an edition of
Campbell's _Lives of the Admirals_; whilst, in 1813, his _Letters from
the Levant_ made their appearance. These contain 'views of the state of
society, manners, opinions, and commerce, in Greece and several of the
principal islands of the Archipelago,' and had actually been written as
letters at the places from which they are dated, being subsequently but
little altered.

Perhaps we have already seen enough of the subject of this sketch to
convince us that any lengthy perseverance in one course of conduct must
not be expected of him, and, sure enough, the next thing we hear of him
is that he is bound for Gibraltar, on another commercial enterprise.
Before setting out, he had taken occasion to revisit the scenes of his
early years, going in turn to every place which he remembered having
frequented, even to the churchyard, amid whose tombstones, like his own
Andrew Wylie, he had haunted as a boy. Taking stock of himself and his
surroundings, he tells us that he was sensible of change everywhere, but
nowhere more than in his own hopes. 'I saw that a blight had settled on
them, and that my career must in future be circumscribed and sober.'
When it is remembered that he was now touching upon what is called the
prime of life, his tone of disillusion is pathetic.

He had gone to Gibraltar as the emissary of Kirkman Finlay--a Glasgow
merchant, who afterwards bore a spirited part in the Greek War of
Independence--with a view to ascertain the feasibility of smuggling
British goods into Spain. But the victories of the Duke of Wellington in
the Peninsula were unfavourable to his mission, and much against his
will he found himself compelled to return to England, having
accomplished nothing, to seek surgical treatment for a painful malady
from which he was now suffering. Whilst in London he was married, his
wife being the daughter of a Dr Tilloch, editor of the _Philosophical
Magazine_, to which Galt was an occasional contributor. His marriage was
a very happy one, and on the principle, perhaps, that the happiest
countries have no history, his married life is not referred to in the
biographies. In 1814, at the time of the Restoration in France, we find
him visiting Holland and that country, with a view to promote yet
another 'abortive scheme.'

It had now become imperative that he should exert himself, and having,
as one may say, nothing better to do on his return from the Continent,
he resumed the labours of the pen. His first known work of fiction was
the result. It was entitled _The Majolo_, founded upon a Sicilian
superstition, and published anonymously in 1816. It was a favourite with
its author, and has been described as a 'strange flighty production,
enjoyed only by a few peculiar minds.' With it may be mentioned _The
Earthquake_, a three-volume novel written in 1820, and founded on the
Messina earthquake of 1783. The latter, though an extravagant and
ill-constructed story, is said to describe Sicilian habits and
sentiments with accuracy. _The Majolo_ was followed in the same year by
the earlier instalment of a _Life of Benjamin West_, compiled from
materials supplied by the painter himself--a work which was completed
four years later, after his death. Then the eternal commercial scheme
cropped up again. This time it emanated from Glasgow, leading Galt to
move with his family to Finnart, near Greenock, where he spent a period
afterwards characterised as the most unsatisfactory in his whole life.
As usual the scheme in which he was interested failed, and he returned
to London, having accepted employment from the Union Canal Company, in
order to assist the passing through Parliament of a bill promoted by
that body. This being accomplished, he returned to the drudgery of the
desk, and, first and last, turned out a portentous body of hack-work,
the various items of which need not be catalogued. Fortunately for
himself, if not always for his reader, he had the strength and
_insouciance_ under labour of what he physically was, a giant. Among the
tasks performed at this time were the fascinating, if fabulous, Pictures
from English, Scottish, and Irish History; _The Wandering Jew_,
described as a 'conglomerate of history, biography, travel, and
descriptive geography,' and a collection of 'All the Voyages round the
World'--the last issued under the pen-name of Samuel Prior.

This record of futile commercial enterprise, varied by uninspiring
literary work, constitutes dull reading; fortunately a happier period is
now reached. In 1820, Mr Blackwood accepted _The Ayrshire Legatees_ for
his magazine, and this book proved to be Galt's first real literary
success. Perhaps it is also the first deliberate attempt in our
literature to delineate, for their own sake, contemporary Scottish
manners and character. It will be seen that the mechanism of the story,
though of the simplest, is well contrived for supplying to these the
necessary relief. Dr Pringle, the minister of a secluded rural parish in
Ayrshire, having to his surprise been appointed residuary legatee of a
wealthy Indian cousin deceased, betakes himself to London to attend to
his affairs in person. He is accompanied by his wife and family--the
latter consisting of a son just called to the Scottish bar, and a
daughter. The Scottish characters are thus detached against an English
background, and the letters in which they describe their experiences in
the metropolis to their several correspondents at home make up the
staple of the book. The characters of this little group--of the simple,
but truly pious and kind-hearted minister, with his sturdy
presbyterianism and quaint traditional phraseology of the pulpit; of
that notable managing woman his spouse, like whom there was not another
within the jurisdiction of the Synod of Glasgow and Ayr; and of the
really able and acute young advocate, with his Scottish magniloquence,
and his pose as a man of the world even whilst betraying his
inexperience--all these are well conceived and well drawn, their
unconscious self-revelation being cleverly and naturally managed. The
high-flown and romantic young lady, who so soon adapts herself to her
new circumstances, though a pleasing enough portrait, is less
distinctively Scottish than the rest. Fragments of narrative
interpolated among the letters serve to introduce us to the audience
before whom these are read out, and at the same time to present a second
series of slighter, though not less racy, character-sketches. The hint
of the book, with its unanswered correspondence, is obviously drawn from
_Humphrey Clinker_, and, as in that masterpiece, real persons and
events--such as the funeral of George the Third and the trial of Queen
Caroline, Braham the singer and Sir Francis Burdett--supply much of the
epistolary subject-matter. As in Smollett's novel, too, the same
subjects are at times discussed in turn by the different writers--a plan
which, though it serves the purpose of contrasting character, is not
entirely free from objection.

_The Ayrshire Legatees_ was followed in the next year by the yet more
original _Annals of the Parish_. The history of the growth of this book
is identical with that of _Waverley_--it had been begun years before,
laid aside, and then resumed and completed--only that Galt has told us
that his reason for discontinuing it was that he had been assured that a
Scotch novel had no chance of success--an assurance which the case of
_Waverley_ has proved untrue. The _Annals_ stands in somewhat the same
relation to Scott's novel as does a Dutch to an Italian masterpiece, a
tale of Crabbe's to an Elizabethan tragedy. It is given out as an
account of the ministry of Micah Balwhidder, parish priest of Dalmailing
(Dreghorn), written by himself. Mr Balwhidder had happened to be
inducted on the very day on which King George the Third came to the
throne; and, irrespective of its merit as a work of fiction, his
narrative possesses real historical value as a record of the progress of
a rural parish during the half-century succeeding that event. Indeed,
with some omissions, the book might almost be printed as an appendix to
the old Statistical Account of the parishes of Scotland, drawn up by the
ministers. When rumours of great events--such as the American War of
Independence or the French Revolution--reach the secluded hamlet, their
sound is softened and their influence subdued. But the records of such
local matters as floods and bad seasons, improvement of land, making of
roads and planting of hedges, development of mineral resources, and so
on, are also in their degree the stuff of which history is made, and as
here set down they are worthy the attention of an Arthur Young. Then we
are incidentally informed of the fluctuations of prices, of the rise of
new industries, and the change of fashions--information which to the
ordinary novel-reader would appear dry, but for the human and personal
interest by which it is pervaded. For the history of the parishioners is
interwoven with that of the parish, and over the whole is cast the charm
of the kindly Doric and the simple and guileless personality of the
minister. In theory an uncompromising stickler for orthodoxy of
doctrine, and a terror to evil-doers in the abstract, Mr Balwhidder's
instinct is wiser than his creed, and where the two are at variance the
stronger insensibly gains the day. The tone of his fragmentary narrative
is of itself proof sufficient of his fatherly interest in his villagers.
And among those villagers, or at least within the narrow bounds of his
parish, he can exhibit a sufficiently motley and picturesque variety in
character and the experience of life. First of all we have Lord
Eaglesham, the kind landlord, genial gentleman and free liver; Mr
Cayenne, the irascible business-man, whose bark is worse than his bite,
and Lady Macadam, the flighty and high-handed Great Lady of the old
school. Then there is Mrs Malcolm, the pattern widow left with a large
young family, her son Charles, the frank sailor, and her handsome
daughter Kate; old Nanse Banks, the school-mistress, and her more
advanced successor, Miss Sabrina Hookey; Colin Mavis, the youthful poet;
the labourer who deserts his slatternly wife and family in order to
enlist; the 'naturals,' Jenny Gaffaw and her fantastic ill-fated
daughter; pious Mizy Mirkland, and many more. And if these figures be
not drawn life-size and set direct in the reader's eye, it is for the
sake of artistic keeping: the book is deliberately pitched in a lower
key than the ordinary novel, and its persons are shown to us, as it
were, afar off. But, none the less, every history is life-like, every
character consistent within itself--living as with the life of those
real people who flourished before our time, and of whom we have all of
us heard in fireside stories as children. In this respect the author's
aim is perfectly realised, and his work is a perfect work of art.

As is the _Annals_ to ministerial and parochial life, so is _The
Provost_ (published in the following year) to the life of magistrates
and municipalities. Yet a greater contrast to the ingenuous pastor of
Dalmailing than that presented by the long-headed Provost of the Royal
Burgh of Gudetown it would be almost impossible to conceive. Either of
the two, in fact, presents a happy illustration of the respective shares
of personality and environment in the formation of character: each is in
part God's work, in part the world's. But it is in the magistrate that
the world has the larger share. Provost Pawkie, who is Galt's
masterpiece in the delineation of character, is worldly wisdom
incarnate. Entering public life at a period when jobbery and corruption
are rife, he simply takes the world as he finds it, and turns it to the
best account he can. Only, as nature has endowed him with a sharper wit
than his brother bailies and councillors, he is enabled to tread the
paths of policy to much better advantage than they, whilst in the midst
of very questionable transactions retaining the appearance of clean
hands. A fortunate geniality of temper, which is partly the cause and
partly the result of his prosperity, keeps him even at the worst from
entirely forfeiting our regard; while, strange as it may seem, the
warmth and rightness of his feeling in public or private matters where
his own interest is not concerned prove that his heart remains
unperverted by the element in which he works. As time goes on, the
public life around him becomes purer, and he himself keeps pace with the
times. Is this because he has seen the error of his ways, and like all
people who are good in the main grows better as he grows older; or is it
merely the result of policy trimming his sails to catch the popular
breeze? Perhaps the balance of the doubt is in his favour; yet assuredly
he is far too clear-sighted to persevere in methods which have become
publicly discredited. Galt's artistic instinct was too true to allow
him to make perfectly clear to us all the workings of so subtle a mind;
but the worthy cloth-mercer himself stands before us to the life,
shrewd, portly, and consequential, with the redeeming twinkle of a dry
Scotch humour in his eye and a racy Scotticism on his lip.

As in the _Annals of the Parish_, so in _The Provost_ a chronicle of
external progress forms the background to the narrator's experiences,
and in the latter case this chronicle deals with improvements in the
burgh, sanitary enactments, paving and lighting, repairing the Tolbooth
steeple, and so forth. These affairs, though in their own way typical
also, are of narrower interest than the changes in a countryside, but
their inferiority in this respect is more than made up for by such
admirable passages of interpolated narrative as, for instance, those
which describe the execution of Jean Gaisling for child-murder, the
Windy Yule with its disasters on the sea and heart-break on land, the
duel, and the visit of the press-gang, or, in humorous vein, the fracas
with the strolling players in the change-house, and the incident of the
supposed French spy.

Few writers have possessed a greater native gift of story-telling than
Galt, and few, it must alas! be added have used their gift more
carelessly. In the very slightest of his numberless tales, traces of
this gift are apt to appear, and perhaps in none of his writings is it
seen to greater advantage than in the incidental reminiscences of _The
Provost_. But, in fact, this little book possesses the merit, so rare
among our author's writings, of perfection as an artistic whole. In
reviewing Galt we are too apt to find ourselves driven to the naïve
conclusion of the man in the anecdote, 'that the work would have been
better if the craftsman had taken more pains.' But in this case he
either _did_ take more trouble than usual, or else, which is more
likely, his inspiration was better sustained.

The period now under consideration may be defined as that of Galt's
masterpieces; yet even now a slight decline in his workmanship begins to
be manifest. In the same year with _The Provost_, he published _The
Steamboat_, and _Sir Andrew Wylie_, thus already betraying a tendency to
over-write. _The Steamboat_ consists mainly of an account of the
experiences of one Thomas Duffle, burgess of the Saltmarket, at the
Coronation of George the Fourth--which is described in detail--the said
experiences being couched in the racy autobiographical style already
familiar to readers of _The Provost_, and relieved by a series of short
stories supposed to be related by Duffle's fellow-travellers. In many of
these stories--and notably in those told by the Sailor Boy and the
Soldier's Mother, in _Deucalion of Kentucky_ and _The Dumbie's
Son_--Galt's powers are seen to advantage. Unfortunately their effect is
marred by the singularly ill-conceived and irritating device on the part
of the author of 'leaving off at the most interesting point.' In a
single instance this trick might have been tolerated, but the reader
loses patience when he finds it repeated again and again. This, however,
is but a single example out of many which might be cited from Galt's
writings of his propensity to ill-timed joking, and his seeming
inability to take his own work seriously.

It has been asserted that, of all Galt's novels, _Sir Andrew Wylie_ was
the most popular south of the Tweed. If this was so, its popularity was
due far less to intrinsic desert than to the accident that a great part
of the action of the story takes place in England, whilst the principal
actors--among whom is included a portrait of Lord Blessington--instead
of belonging to the Scottish lower or middle classes, are members of the
English aristocracy. A success based upon such grounds as these has of
course no real value, and besides being of tedious length, the novel in
question falls in other ways far short of the author's best
achievements. Andrew Wylie is intended as the type of the canny young
Scot who goes up to London and makes his fortune. We see him first as a
queer 'auld-farrant' urchin, and then as an eident thrifty youth. He
fully means to get on, he has the sharpest of eyes to see on which side
his bread is buttered, and, above all, he has none of the ordinary
failings of youth, and sows no wild oats. In fact he is rich in all
those serviceable qualities of which perhaps the perfect exemplar in
real life is no Scot but the Yankee Benjamin Franklin, and he has a
quaint vein of native humour thrown in. And yet, notwithstanding so many
qualities and so few infirmities, he is no prig, but, like Franklin,
compels not only our respect, but our liking. So far the author has done
well. But when he goes on to describe 'Wheelie's' rise in the world, we
feel that the means of his advancement are altogether too phenomenal.
With such a friend as the Earl to help him, what young man might not
have risen? But this is only a single instance of his luck. Throughout
his career, the hero meets with the consistent and amazing good-fortune
of a prince in a fairy-tale, making conquests at first sight not only of
lackadaisical Riversdales and scatter-brain Dashingwells, but of the
King and of Pitt himself. And so, as the story progresses, its
improbability increases, until in the scenes between Andrew and the
dowager, and Andrew and the baronet, it becomes flatly and absolutely
incredible. In this particular--I mean in the entire disproportion
between the effect produced by the hero upon the reader and that which
he is supposed to exercise on the other characters in the book--the
story shares the fundamental defect of another Scottish novel, the work
of a much more pains-taking hand--_The Little Minister_.

Galt's next publication of importance was _The Entail_--a novel of which
the theme is 'gear,' a Scotsman's pertinacity in gathering it, and his
tenacity in holding it when gathered--a matchless subject for the
illustration of national character. And in this case the mere desire of
acquisition is elevated and to some extent humanised by being associated
with another characteristic passion of the Scot--to wit, the pride of
family. The story turns upon the disinheriting, for estate reasons, by
Claud Walkinshaw, Laird of Grippy, of his eldest son, and on the events
which spring therefrom. Walkinshaw, who is the representative of an old
but ruined family, has been brought up in penury, but at an early age
has set before himself as his aim in life the reconquest of the family
estates. Towards this object every step he takes is directed; in its
interest every secondary consideration is sacrificed. His youth has been
spent in haggling as a pedlar, and when, having by his own exertions
established himself in trade, he decides to marry, he goes, of course,
'where money is.' His firstborn, Charles, is his favourite son; but even
paternal affection must give way before the ruling passion. Watty, the
second son (a masterly sketch) has been a 'natural' from his birth. But
he is heir to the estate of his maternal grandfather, and it is only
through a transaction depending on the possession of this property that
a Walkinshaw can be reinstated in possession of the undiminished
Walkinshaw estates. To these circumstances Charles is without hesitation
sacrificed, and his father's dream seems at last to be realised. But,
though he has gained his point, the old man finds himself further than
ever from contentment. The stars in their courses seem to fight against
him, the consequences of his unjust act recoil upon him, and he is even
driven to believe himself an object of heavenly vengeance. Thus--in his
character as a father visited by retributive justice through his
children--Claud Walkinshaw may be considered the Père Goriot of Scottish
fiction. And so far the book is fine; but unfortunately, from this
point--about midway--the level of excellence is not sustained. In the
midst of his woes, Claud is carried off by a shock of paralysis; but the
evil he has done lives after him, thus supplying material for the
remainder of the novel. But the calculating business-man, the youngest
of the three brothers, who now succeeds to the role of principal
character, is colourless in comparison with his father. The writing,
too, though relieved by the delightful sallies of the 'Leddy
Grippy'--one of the very best of Scotchwomen in fiction--becomes diffuse
to such a point that we wax impatient for the expiation of the old man's
misdeeds by his disinterested grandson. Both Scott and Byron are said to
have read this book three times, but the modern reader will probably
rest content with a single perusal.

Its shortcomings notwithstanding, _The Entail_ was favourably received,
and by this time the author is said to have been so elated by success as
to boast that his literary resources were far greater than those of
Scott, or any other contemporary.[6] Whether in deliberate rivalry or
not, certain it is that, by turning his attention to the historical
romance, he now entered the field which the Wizard had made particularly
his own. In the meantime he had taken up his abode at Esk Grove, near
Musselburgh, where, in possible emulation of Abbotsford, he is said to
have contemplated building a 'veritable fortress,' exactly in the
fashion of the oldest times of rude warfare.

The results of his bold literary enterprise were seen in _Ringan
Gilhaize_, _The Spaewife_, and _Rothelan_--the first two published in
1823, the third in the following year. In an article from the pen of Mr
Francis Espinasse, in the Dictionary of National Biography, these books
are disposed of as 'three forgotten novels'; but the description lacks
discrimination. Forgotten, for aught I know to the contrary, they may
be; but at least one of the three deserved a happier fate. _Ringan
Gilhaize_ is, in fact, a very fine historical romance, and one, it may
be said in passing, which would well repay resuscitation at the hands of
some enterprising publisher. A happy instinct had directed Galt in his
selection of a period which is certainly the most important, as it is
one of the two most romantically interesting, in Scottish history. For
though the War of Independence be the darling theme of Scottish
patriotism, what I may call the War of Religious Liberty enjoys the
two-fold advantage of a wider sympathy and a deeper intellectual
significance. Galt has skilfully conducted us through the entire period
of this struggle, for his story, opening during the regency of Marie of
Lorraine, concludes with the battle of Killiecrankie, whilst of
intermediate historical events which bear upon the main issue, the
greater number receive some notice in passing. Of course the danger of
such a proceeding is lest fiction become subordinate to fact, thus
making the main interest of the book an historical rather than an
imaginative one. But this danger Galt has cleverly avoided. His method
is to bring bygone times home to us through the imagination--as, for
instance, in the scene of the gathering of devout persons in Gilhaize's
house, or the open air preaching near Lasswade--whilst at the same time
quickening our interest in historical occurrences--such as the battle of
Drumclog, or the march of the Covenanting forces to Edinburgh--by
causing his imaginary characters to participate in them. This, I
conceive to be the true philosophy of the historical romance. And into
the spirit of the particular movement with which he deals, it must be
acknowledged that Galt has penetrated further than Scott. For the true
aim of the writer of a novel treating of these times in Scotland was
obviously to disregard such a non-essential as sporadic insincerity, to
penetrate the outer crust of dourness and intolerance, and whilst
maintaining the balance of perfect fairness, to compel the reader to
sympathise with the best of the Covenanters, not only in their bitter
resentment of cruel wrongs, but in their most earnestly cherished and
loftiest ideals. And this, which Scott did not care to do, Galt has
accomplished, in virtue of which achievement his book is entitled to
rank as the epic of the Scottish religious wars.

In attempting to embrace within the compass of a single novel the one
hundred and thirty years or so of his period, the author of _Ringan
Gilhaize_ was certainly assaying a very hazardous experiment. For one
thing, of course it was necessary that he should change his hero more
than once, and the risk by so doing of dispersing and losing the
reader's interest was immense. But whilst by taking the family instead
of the individual as his unit, he has preserved artistic consistency,
from this danger he has escaped unscathed. For from the time of the
mission of Michael Gilhaize to St Andrews, and his adventures with the
wanton Madam Kilspinnie, to that of the death of Claverhouse by the hand
of the half-deranged or 'illuminated' Ringan, the interest of the story
never flags. It abounds in fascinating passages of adventure--such as
the journey of the elder Gilhaize to Eglinton, or the wanderings of
Ringan and Mr Witherspoon after the fight at Rullion Green; whilst,
having already referred to an advantage possessed by Galt over Scott, I
may here add that there are passages in this book evincing a literary
style, an intensity, and a delicacy with which Sir Walter could not
compete. Such is the passage describing Gilhaize's reflections whilst
waiting, in the grey of morning, at the gate of Lord James Stuart's
house; the passage which follows, describing the spreading of the news
that John Knox has arrived in Edinburgh, and that which describes the
dalliance of the Queen of Scots with the Reformer on Loch Leven shore.
That Scott was a far greater writer, as he was a far happier man than
his contemporary, no reviewer in his senses would venture to deny. But
that Galt possessed qualities which Scott did not possess, though less
freely acknowledged, is not less true. When the number and extent of his
works is considered, it must be owned that the occasions upon which Galt
puts forth his full powers, or allows us to praise him without reserve,
are sadly few. All the more reason, therefore, that when he does give
us such an opportunity, we should avail ourselves of it with courage and
without stint! It now only remains to add that the book is written in
clear and terse old Scots, to which a dash of the peculiar phraseology
of the Reformed Church adds a touch of quaintness.

'Surely something must have come over Galt!' is one's involuntary
exclamation on reading his next book, for a greater falling off from
_Ringan Gilhaize_ than _The Spaewife_ can scarcely be imagined. Here
even the writing is slipshod; but, alas! these ups and downs are but too
characteristic of the author. Like the former work, in the cabals and
factions of the rival claimants--or, more properly, aspirants--to the
Crown of Scotland during the reign of James the First, _The Spaewife_
has a promising and powerful theme. But of the treatment of this theme
it may be said that it can boast scarcely one redeeming feature. The
conduct of the tale is involved and obscure, and abounds in incidents
and dialogues which, while tedious and perplexing in themselves, serve
neither to illustrate character nor to advance action. Indeed, the
reader is heavily taxed to remember the motives and the relations with
one another of the different persons presented. Nor is the book
appreciably stronger in the department of character-drawing. Upon the
poet-king, the romantic ill-fated lover of Joanna Beaufort, one would
suppose that a novelist might delight to lavish his best art. Instead of
this, the King and Queen of the story are mere blanks. Catherine Douglas
is no better, and such originality in character-sketching as the book
can show--and that is not much--is to be found in the portraits of
Glenfruin, the deep though simple-seeming Highland chieftain, and of the
timorous and vacillating Earl of Athol.

_Rothelan_, a tale of the times of Edward the Third--the historical
portions of which are drawn from an interesting work on that period
written by Joshua Barnes, an antiquary of the seventeenth century--is
unfortunately more nearly on the level of _The Spaewife_ than on that of
_Ringan Gilhaize_. The book is not wanting in spirited scenes, but the
welding of history and romance is but imperfectly accomplished,
notwithstanding an abuse of breaks and gaps, abrupt transitions and
passages irrelevant to the main narrative. Then again, between the
machinations of the conscience-haunted Amias and his inscrutable
henchman Ralph, and the counter-machinations of the wily Adonijah, the
intricacies of the tale are so much too subtle as to end in puzzling the
reader himself. In a passage which may perhaps have been intended as a
sly hit at Scott, the author expressly disclaims any attempt to
reanimate the 'scenes of chivalry, and the pride, pomp, and panoply of
war,' or to restore the archaic language, or the 'fashions of the
draperies, or the ornaments and architecture in the background.' His
concern, he tells us, is not with such subordinate matters as these, but
directly with the human heart itself. For a poet or novelist the
position is a perfectly tenable one, and it is not to this but to the
fact that he lets us see that he does not take his work seriously, that
the author's failure is due. For into his lighter scenes an element of
burlesque, which had already peeped out in his last book, again obtrudes
itself; and burlesque, though a capital thing in its way, is here
entirely out of place. Neither could it under any circumstances be
supposed by a writer of historical fiction that the illusion which it is
his business to produce would be assisted by discussion of such topics
current at the time of writing as Sir Walter Scott's _Redgauntlet_, or
the question of the three-volume novel.

As under favourable conditions there is perhaps no form of labour more
delightful than literary work, so there can be none more sickening when
it is half-hearted or against the grain. Galt had now produced two
novels in succession in which it was but too apparent that his heart was
not, and he may well have felt weary of the work. Or their languor may
have been due to the fact that his interest had been drawn off in
another direction. At any rate, after a long and--if we judge it by its
best productions--an extremely brilliant spell at his desk, he now
practically abandoned it for some years to come. Well had it been, not
only for his best interests, but for his material happiness, had he
remained where he was!

The immediate occasion of this change in his life was as follows:--It
happened that some of the principal inhabitants of Canada, whose
property had sustained damage in the American War of 1814, had recently
become urgent in their claims for compensation from the mother country.
As the result of 'proceedings' on which the _Autobiography_ throws no
light, Galt was commissioned to act as agent in this country for the
injured parties, which commission he accepted, undaunted by the worry
and demands upon his time which it must necessarily entail, and set
zealously to work to get the claims allowed by the Treasury. He gained
his point subject to conditions, it being agreed by Government that the
demands of the claimants should be satisfied from the proceeds of the
sale of certain Crown lands in Canada known as the 'reserves.' To find
purchasers for this land now became Galt's object, and mainly through
his instrumentality the 'Canada Company' was formed. But in the
meantime, the inhabitants of Upper Canada, among whom party spirit ran
unusually high, having prejudiced their case with Government, it was
determined that the money realised by selling the reserves should be
devoted to other purposes. Thus Galt found himself defeated in his
object, and in this juncture he was persuaded to join the Canada Company
as a member. He was then appointed a Commissioner to determine the value
of the land to be purchased by the Company, and having crossed the
Atlantic, he proceeded to York, the capital of Upper Canada, where the
Commission prosecuted its enquiries. His health at the time was bad, but
his task was congenial. From boyhood he had nourished a hankering after
colonisation, and if we abate a few comparatively trifling dissensions,
his experiences at this time seem on the whole to have been agreeable.
In due course the Commissioners signed their report and returned to
England, only to receive the news that their labours had been
unexpectedly complicated by action taken by the Canadian clergy in
relation to the 'clergy reserves.' After some difficulty this matter
also was at length adjusted, and the Company having obtained its
Charter, Galt was deputed to return to Canada to superintend the
founding of the new colony. Whilst the affairs above-mentioned had been
under discussion, he had, however, found time to produce _The Omen_ and
_The Last of the Lairds_, two small but admirable works in contrasted

Indeed, the sustained excellence of the former suffices to constitute it
his masterpiece in the purely tragic vein. It is likewise in all
probability his most characteristic work, its unique and special claim
to attention consisting in the tense and lurid imaginative atmosphere
which the author has created and made to pervade his tale. Availing
himself of the autobiographical convention, and assuming a fantastic
dramatic guise, he gives the rein to his fancy and roams at large in a
world that is dominated by those presentiments, bodings, and subtle
hidden relations of things, which had always exercised so powerful a
fascination over his mind. And yet--what is of vital importance in the
effect which he obtains--these portents are never allowed to lead us
away from the firm earth, or from actual life. From the very first the
reader is brought under the potent spell of the author's imagination,
and so perfect is the art that ever as the dark tale unfolds the
author's grip gains in strength. There are passages of fervid and gloomy
eloquence in the writing which recall nothing in literature so much as
Chateaubriand's masterpiece, and it is notable that, whilst in other
respects the two stories are entirely distinct, the mysterious and
repellent point on which they turn is one. _René_ was almost pure
autobiography, and it is plain to those who have studied Galt's more
intimate utterances that into _The Omen_ he threw much of what was moody
and fantastic in his own mind and personality.

_The Last of the Lairds_ is a pleasant comedy of old Scotch manners,
rich in the masterly painting of old Scotch character. The plot turns on
the making up by busybodies of a match between a withered spinster and
an elderly, partly imbecile, and ruined landlord--the threatened
ugliness of the theme being averted by a gaiety rare in Galt's work, and
also--as in the case of some of Hogarth's pictures--by sheer skill and
power displayed in the characterisation. The contrasted meddlers, the
bride and her sister, the Nabob, and the Laird's Jock are all of them
capital; whilst the Laird himself, though failing to attain the breadth
and dignity proper to a type, is at least a good and by no means
ungenial portrait. The change wrought in him by marriage, if surprising,
is not incredible, and serves to pave the way for the welcome happy
ending. This book, which was left incomplete by Galt when he returned to
America, received some finishing touches from his friend Moir, though
the hand of the latter cannot be said to be traceable in its pages.

Late in the year 1826, the author returned to Canada, having already, by
his own account, some grounds for believing that he was regarded with
hostility. Whether these suspicions were purely morbid or not it is
impossible to say, but a general consideration of his fitness for the
work to which he had chosen to devote his life may not be out of place.
There is every reason to believe that he was afterwards harshly and
unjustly used; yet judging solely from what he himself has told of
himself, one must allow that he was not precisely the sort of man to
select for the discharge of important public business. That his ability
was extraordinary, and his power of work immense, has been amply
established; none the less does it remain true that in certain qualities
not less essential to business he was positively defective. Morbidly
sensitive, he lacked the wisdom to control his feelings under a sense of
injury, and was too much inclined to form conclusions, and to act, upon
impulse. In addition to this, imagination or fancy--of which, in a world
constituted as ours is, the mere suspicion will often suffice to
prejudice a man in his dealings with his fellow-men--was far too active
a power in his brain. But, to leave such considerations as are grounded
upon character and revert to substantial facts, what was the assumption
from Galt's previous history as a man of business? That history reveals
a goodly number of schemes and of attempts, scarce one of which but had
proved abortive or a failure. Surely, if he was in truth a competent
business man, ill-luck must have pursued him with uncommon pertinacity;
and even allowing this to have been the case, he will still stand
condemned as a wretched judge of the chances of success inherent in any
given business concern. The years at which we have now arrived were the
most momentous in his life as a man; but in a sketch of his literary
career, such as the present, their place is subordinate.

Haunted by presentiments of evil even at the time of leaving home, Galt
had scarcely reached Canada when his troubles began. In fact his
differences with Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant-Governor of the
province, date from the morning after his arrival. Of this disagreement
it is sufficient to say that Galt was not the aggressor, though very
likely his previous conduct had been less wary than behoved for one in
his delicate position. Certainly, with all due sympathy for a
much-suffering man of genius, it cannot be asserted that his temperament
was one calculated to smooth away difficulties, or, where self-love was
concerned, to carry him pleasantly out of a misunderstanding. The
Governor, besides suspecting him of unfriendliness to the Government,
was jealous of a supposed inclination to interfere in public matters
outside his sphere; and though these suspicions were alike groundless,
it unfortunately happened that a communication which Galt had addressed
to the editor of an opposition journal afforded a specific ground of
complaint. Here, at once, were all the materials for a very pretty

A visit to Quebec, however, brought more agreeable experiences, social
and adventurous. Thence Galt proceeded to York, to commence the duties
of his mission. He was now practically in sole charge of the business of
the Company, but he seems to have felt quite equal to his
responsibilities, and when winter was over he decided to begin
operations by founding a city in the Company's territory. Determined to
clothe the occasion with as much impressiveness as possible, and having
selected St George's Day as an auspicious date, he accordingly travelled
to the appointed site--the last nine miles of the journey lying within
the primeval forest. Here is his account of the proceedings:--

    'It was consistent with my plan to invest our ceremony with a little
    mystery, the better to make it be remembered. So intimating that the
    main body of the men were not to come, we walked to the brow of the
    neighbouring rising ground, and Mr Prior having shown the site
    selected for the town, a large maple tree was chosen; on which,
    taking an axe from one of the woodmen, I struck the first stroke. To
    me at least the moment was impressive,--and the silence of the
    woods, that echoed to the sound, was as the sigh of the solemn
    genius of the wilderness departing for ever. The doctor followed me,
    then, if I recollect correctly, Mr Prior, and the woodmen finished
    the work. The tree fell with a crash of accumulating thunder, as if
    ancient Nature were alarmed at the entrance of social man into her
    innocent solitudes with his sorrows, his follies, and his crimes. I
    do not suppose that the sublimity of the occasion was unfelt by the
    others, for I noticed that after the tree fell, there was a funereal
    pause, as when the coffin is lowered into the grave; it was,
    however, of short duration, for the doctor pulled a flask of whisky
    from his bosom, and we drank prosperity to the City of Guelph.'

The name was chosen in compliment to the Royal Family. To matter-of-fact
minds the characteristic tone of this passage may appear dangerously
poetical, so perhaps it is well to add that the site of the new city had
been most judiciously chosen. Occupying a tongue of land projecting into
a river, almost in the centre of the district which separates the lakes
of Ontario, Simcoe, Huron, and Erie, the infant township enjoyed
extraordinary facilities for communication. It became prosperous, and
within the space of forty-five years its population had reached the
total of 50,000.

Galt now threw himself with great zeal and energy into his work, which
was on a grand scale and of a stimulating character, and, besides the
founding of cities, included the felling of forests, exploration, and
the naming of places unnamed. To a voyage undertaken for the purpose of
finding a harbour on Lake Huron, was due the origin of the now
flourishing city of Goderich. Of course the romance of this sort of
life, together with the sense it gave him of playing an important part
in the spread of civilisation, were agreeable and flattering to Galt;
but in other respects his position was not without drawbacks. Those
symptoms of troubles to come which had so early presented themselves to
him had by no means disappeared; whilst, as he assures us, secret
enemies were also at work against him. There were not wanting signs of
friction between the Government and the Directors of the Company, the
stock of the latter fell to a discount, and the Directors thereupon
taxed their Commissioner with extravagance in the carrying out of his
plans. He began to find himself subjected to petty annoyances, and at
this time an incident in which he had humanely, but perhaps
injudiciously, befriended some helpless emigrants served further to
embroil matters.

In this juncture, he received a private warning to expect a reprimand
from his Directors. No doubt there were faults on both sides, but
conscious that he had done his best, and smarting under the injustice of
being assumed unheard to be in fault, he placed his resignation in the
hands of a friend. The friend, however, decided not to present it, and
Galt therefore continued his labours as before, evincing an astonishing
fertility in projects and ideas, of which we may suppose a fair
proportion to have been applicable enough to his circumstances.
Unfortunately causes of annoyance continued to flow in upon him, and it
was evident that a climax was not far off.

The spectacle now afforded by the _Autobiography_ is a melancholy one.
It is that of a gifted and generous-minded, though unduly irritable,
man-of-letters entangled in toils of red-tape, and in the meantime
exposed to the darts of his enemies. In such a contest--though in some
respects Galt was a giant pitted against pigmies--it was a foregone
conclusion that he must come off second-best. Matters were precipitated
by the Directors appointing an accountant to assist him in his duties.
The conduct of this person supplied grounds for a belief that he was
authorised to exercise surveillance over the Superintendent, and such a
position being intolerable, Galt resolved to return to England. Indeed
he found himself driven to the conclusion that it was intended to break
up the Company, and that his own removal from office would be a step
towards that end. Unfortunately he was destined to undergo treatment
even less agreeable than that which he anticipated. Circumstances
having compelled him to defer his return to England, he paid a final
visit to Goderich, and had arrived at New York on his homeward journey
when he was informed that he had been superseded. As he had been on the
point of retiring from the service, his material position remained
practically unaffected. But his resignation, if indeed it were
irrevocably determined on, had certainly not been publicly announced,
and to a man of his temperament it must have been gall and wormwood to
have forcibly taken from him even though 'twere but that which he was
ready to resign. No wonder that he felt himself to have been treated
with the vilest ingratitude. 'The Canada Company,' he writes, 'had
originated in my suggestions, it was established by my endeavours,
organised in disregard of many obstacles by my perseverance, and, though
extensive and complicated in its scheme, a system was formed by me upon
which it could be with ease conducted. Yet without the commission of any
fault, for I dare every charge of that kind, I was destined to reap from
it only troubles and mortifications, and something which I feel as an
attempt to disgrace me.'[7]

The writer of the article, before referred to, in the Dictionary of
National Biography has spoken of the _Autobiography_ as 'remarkable for
self-complacency.' It is, therefore, only fair to state that the value
which Galt puts upon his own services as a colonial organiser is not
unsupported by testimony from without. The report of a local expert,
incorporated in Galt's narrative, testifies not only to the intrinsic
excellence of his system, but to the success attending it; whilst an
address of gratitude and good wishes presented by the settlers in the
new city bears witness to the personal estimation in which they held
him. Indeed one of the main causes of his failure seems to have been
that he took too high a view of his own mission, aspiring to aim at the
good of humanity, where his associates and principals were content to
contemplate gain: a Quixote set to perform the work of a Board composed
of Sancho Panzas. Even at this date, had he been informed at once that
his dismissal must be regarded as final, he would have been spared some
suffering. But his agony--the term is scarcely an exaggeration--was
prolonged by suspense and by unavailing struggles. And finally, as if
anything were yet wanting to complete the irony of his position, he
lived to see the Company which he had himself founded, and in the
service of which three of the best years of his life had been spent,
develop into a flourishing concern, yielding abundant profits in which
he had no share.

Misfortunes come not singly, and the fall of the lion is the opportunity
of meaner creatures. The determining of his connection with the Canada
Company had hit Galt severely in his pecuniary circumstances. He now
found himself unable to meet the claims which were made upon him, and at
the suit of a certain Dr Valpy of Reading, one of the oldest of his
English acquaintances, to whom he owed the paltry sum of £80 for the
education of his sons, he was presently arrested. Conscious as he was of
unimpeachable probity of intention, and marking, as in his Utopian way
he did, a distinction between law and justice, he felt this last
indignity keenly. He, however, made no sign, but endured with
imperturbable stoicism a long period of confinement. None the
less--partly by the physical restraint to which he was so little
accustomed, partly, as he himself with only too much show of
probability suggests, by distress of mind--his constitution was
irreparably injured. He was now entirely dependent on his pen, and
though his literary activity continued as great as before, the literary
fruits which he put forth had lost the fineness of their old savour. Of
this he seems to have been aware, for he has put on record the fact that
his later novels were written to please the public, not himself, and
that he would not wish to be estimated by them. For our purpose,
therefore, a hasty glance at them may suffice.

In 1830 he published _Lawrie Todd_, a tale of life in the backwoods,
which, with _Bogle Corbet, or The Emigrants_, (1831), was founded upon
fact, and designed by the author to serve the double purpose of amusing
the general reader and conveying reliable information to those
practically interested in the American colonies. _Southennan_, a tale of
the days of Mary Queen of Scots, also published in 1830, was inspired by
the tradition associated with a romantic old mansion-house, which had
impressed Galt's fancy in youth. In the same year he also produced his
_Life of Byron_, of which--so keen was public interest in the subject at
the time--three editions were exhausted in as many months. The author's
view of the noble poet's character has been already indicated; his work
has, however, been pronounced 'valueless.' About this time he also acted
as editor of _The Courier_, a Tory newspaper; but, finding the work
uncongenial, after a few months abandoned it. In 1831, by way of a
change of employment, at the suggestion of Lockhart, who was always a
good friend to him, he put together his amusing _Lives of the Players_.
In the same year he took up his abode at Brompton--a suburb in those
days not yet absolutely devoid of the charms of the country--where for
some three or four years to come he occupied Old Barnes Cottage, a
somewhat dilapidated building, but one which possessed the invaluable
appendage of a large and pleasant garden.

It was at this time that Carlyle met him at a dinner-party at the house
of Fraser, the publisher, and wrote a description of him. But before
quoting this sketch, we may give that of Moir, penned some eight years
earlier. At that time, according to the Doctor's testimony, Galt was 'in
the full vigour of health,' a man of herculean frame, over six feet in
height and inclining to corpulency, with jet-black hair as yet
ungrizzled, nose almost straight, small but piercing eyes, and finely
rounded chin. When Carlyle saw him, trouble had already told upon him.
'Galt looks old,' he writes,[8] 'is deafish, has the air of a sedate
Greenock burgher; mouth indicating sly humour and self-satisfaction; the
eyes, old and without lashes, gave me a sort of wae interest for him....
Said little, but that little peaceable, clear and _gutmüthig_. Wish to
see him again.' This account he supplemented a month later as follows:
'A broad gawsie Greenock man, old-growing, lovable with pity.'

The need for pity soon increased. It has been stated that Galt's health
had suffered from his confinement, it was about this time further
affected by the first of a long series of shocks, which are described as
of a nature 'analogous to paralysis.' This sufficed to destroy such
hopes of active employment as remained to him--and he had been, as
usual, hard at work weaving schemes with all his former ingenuity--and
in process of time reduced him to a wreck. Still he clung to his pen,
adding to the already lengthy list of his works the novel of _Stanley
Buxton, or The Schoolfellows_, as well as two political satires entitled
_The Member_ and _The Radical_. Mrs Thomson, authoress of 'Recollections
of Literary Characters,' an old friend, who visited him when he was
growing ever more and more disabled, has left a touching account of his
helplessness. Galt received her without rising from his seat, gave her
his left hand, and pointing to his right, said, 'with a little
quickness, "Perhaps you have heard of my attack? It has fallen upon my
limbs; my head is clear."' Alas! though clear, his mental powers were by
no means what they had been. But, if on some former occasions he had
shown himself too much a prey to moral sensibility, where physical
suffering was concerned his behaviour was that of a stoic. Whilst the
progress of the disease deprived him of the use of one limb after
another, he continued, uncomplaining, to make the most of such powers as
yet remained. Indeed, during the three or four years immediately
following his first seizure, his annual literary output in the
departments of editing, book-making, and story-writing, seems if
anything larger than usual. But among all these undertakings, it is
sufficient here to name the novels of _Eben Erskine, or The Traveller_,
and _The Stolen Child_, with the three volumes of tales collected under
the title of _Stories of the Study_, and the _Autobiography_ and
_Literary Life and Miscellanies_. The lax composition of the latter
works is probably a symptom of mental decay in the author. The book last
named was dedicated by permission to William the Fourth, who in
acknowledgment of the compliment sent Galt £200, which money, together
with £50 obtained for him from the Literary Fund, may be said to
represent the sum of official, or quasi-official, recognition which he
received. For his claims against Government for 'brokerage,' or
commission, on the sale of lands to the Canada Company were refused,
whilst a pension said to have been promised him by the Company was never
paid. The last years of his life were spent in dependence, but it is
pleasing to note that the _Autobiography_ closes with an expression of
satisfaction over the payment of secured debts. He had in the meantime
been removed to the house of a sister at Greenock, where he died on the
11th April 1839, not having yet completed his sixtieth year.

In summing up Galt's position, it may be said that he remains the most
unequal of all writers possessing equal claims to distinction--the man
who _could_ produce _The Provost_ and _Ringan Gilhaize_ and who _did_
produce _The Spaewife_ and _The Literary Life_. For it is not enough to
say, as has been said, that in him there were two men, the man of
letters and the man of affairs: there were two literary men in him, the
creative artist and the book-maker. And the fact that, of these two, the
latter had things too much his own way was due to Galt's defective
appreciation of his high calling. 'My literary propensities,' he writes,
'were suspended during my residence in Upper Canada, not from
resolution, but because I had more interesting pastime. I did then think
myself qualified to do something more useful than "stringing blethers
into rhyme," or writing clishmaclavers in a closet.' And again: 'At no
time, as I frankly confess, have I been a great admirer of mere literary
character; to tell the truth, I have sometimes felt a little shamefaced
in thinking myself so much an author, in consequence of the estimation
in which I view the profession of book-making in general. A mere
literary man--an author by profession--stands low in my opinion.' The
petulance and perversity of the first statement, and the sheer vulgarity
of the second, may be palliated by the fact that the author was in low
spirits and bad health when he made them. It remains none the less true
that these opinions ruled his practice. But they carried their
punishment with them. For who will doubt that Galt would have been a
happier man had he been truer to his vocation, had he resisted the
temptation to fly off at a tangent in pursuit of every commercial
will-o'-the-wisp that might chance to catch his eye, and devoted his
great powers with something more of steadiness and of seriousness to
doing his best at what he was best qualified to do?

He expected that fuller appreciation would come to him after death, and
perhaps this expectation, so fallacious in ninety-nine cases out of
every hundred, was in his case not without plausible grounds. For, from
a literary point of view, Galt, like De Stendhal, was in advance of his
time. Employing the word in its specialised sense, he was more 'modern'
than the greatest among his contemporaries. For example, as has been
already indicated, when most himself he had more of what we are pleased
to consider the characteristically modern qualities of sensitiveness and
imaginative intensity than had Scott. In illustration of this, perhaps
we cannot do better than cite the already quoted _Omen_, with its sombre
and lurid effects, the sense of bated breath, suspense, impending
tragedy, which pervades its every page. Nothing of all this, as I need
hardly say, was in Scott's line; even in the finest and most imaginative
of his shorter pieces, in _My Aunt Margaret's Mirror_, the tension is
eased by characteristic diffuseness of manner. And Galt's superior--some
will call it morbid--sensitiveness extended also to his style: his use
of words, when he is at his best, is much more interesting than Scott's.
It might possibly even be argued that his Scotch, if perhaps less
abundant, is more remarkable for nice appropriateness of word and phrase
than Sir Walter's. [And, by the way, the failure of Galt's reputation to
cross the Tweed may, perhaps, be partly explained by the fact that,
whereas in Scott's novels the dialogue alone is Scotch, in some of
Galt's best books the entire narrative is interspersed with dialect
words. One can fancy, for instance, the puzzled condition of a southern
reader who is informed by the author himself that 'Mrs Malcolm herself
was this winter brought to death's door by a terrible host that came on
her in the kirk,' or that a certain clock 'was a mortification to the
parish from the Lady Breadland.'] But, to continue our argument, besides
the above, Galt has more of the modern pictorial quality than Scott:
there is more in his descriptive work which is addressed directly to the
eye. Once more, he repeatedly gratifies a modern taste by choosing for
his theme what is fantastic, or occult, or what lies off the beaten
track. In stating all this, we would, of course, guard against being
understood to imply that all these characteristics are points of
advantage possessed by Galt over Scott. On the contrary, some of them
may even be symptoms of an age of literary decadence; what we do
maintain is that, in virtue of these characteristics, his chance of
appealing to a late nineteenth-century audience is improved. As a final
word under this heading, Galt may be called the forerunner of the
Realistic movement in Scottish fiction. _The Provost_ and _The Annals_
might almost belong to the age of Tourguenieff and Mr Henry James, and
in this respect his works have been more studied than they have been
praised, their influence has been greater than their reputation.
Generally, and in conclusion, Galt may be credited with having done to
some extent for Glasgow and the West of Scotland what Scott triumphantly
accomplished for the Borders and the Highlands, and for the trading and
professional classes of his country what Scott did for its gentry and


[3] _The Crusade._

[4] _Literary Life_, p. 79.

[5] _Autobiography_, vol. i., p. 147.

[6] R. P. Gillies, _Memoirs of a Literary Veteran_, vol. iii., p. 59.

[7] _Autobiography_, vol. ii., p. 157.

[8] 'Journal,' under date January 21st, 1832.



'After all, how precarious a thing is literary fame! Things to which I
have bent the whole force of my mind, and which are worth
remembering--if any things that I have done are at all worth
remembering--have attracted but a very doubtful share of applause from
critics; whilst things dashed off like _Mansie Wauch_, as mere sportive
freaks, and which for years and years I have hesitated to acknowledge,
have been out of sight my most popular productions.' Thus wrote Moir,
under date of April 12th, 1845--six years before his life's labours
closed--to his friend and biographer, Thomas Aird, author of _The
Devil's Dream_. And in this instance posterity has taken its cue from
contemporary popularity; for it is upon the homely and genial _Mansie
Wauch_, and on that alone, that the once considerable literary
reputation of 'the amiable Delta' rests to-day.

David Macbeth Moir, born on the 5th January 1798, was the son of Robert
Moir and Elizabeth Macbeth, whom Aird describes simply as 'respectable
citizens.' His birthplace was Musselburgh, and to Musselburgh he
remained faithful through life. Indeed, though lives of
men-of-letters--from Shakespeare to Thomas Hardy--afford plenty of
instances of local attachment, there can be few instances I should
suppose of lives more closely associated with a single place. In
Musselburgh Moir's life was spent; Musselburgh he served faithfully,
both in his profession and as a public servant; and in the neighbourhood
of Musselburgh he placed the scene of his most popular work. Gratifying
is it, therefore, to know that Musselburgh has recognised him as her
poet--a minor writer certainly, yet exclusively her own.

Having received his schooling in his native town, at the age of thirteen
young Moir was bound apprentice to a physician in practice there. His
apprenticeship lasted four years, during the latter part of which, as
also during the year following, he studied medicine in the Edinburgh
University. In 1816 he obtained his surgeon's diploma. In the following
year he lost his father, and being then eighteen, became the partner of
a Dr Brown of Musselburgh, whose practice kept him so occupied that for
more than ten years to come he is said not to have spent a single night
out of the town.

Meantime, having a facile pen (too facile it has proved!) he had begun
to compose as far back as 1812, about which year he sent two essays to a
Haddington publication entitled _The Cheap Magazine_. In 1816 he
contributed to the _Scots Magazine_, and, further, commemorated the
exploit of Lord Exmouth by publishing anonymously _The Bombardment of
Algiers, and Other Poems_. Despite pressure of work, he did not give up
literature on entering the medical profession, but in time became a
contributor to Constable's and Blackwood's Magazine--to the latter of
which, over the signature '[Greek: Delta],' he came regularly to furnish
not only _jeux d'esprit_ but essays and serious verse as well, his
contributions in all amounting to the large total of nearly four
hundred. In this manner he became acquainted with John Wilson, for
whose showy poetry he entertained an admiration which was doubtless less
uncommon then than it would be now. Other periodicals to which he
contributed were _Fraser's Magazine_ and the _Edinburgh Literary
Gazette_. Between medicine and literature, his life now went on busily
but uneventfully. In the end of 1824 or the commencement of the next
year, he published, under his pseudonym, a volume of verse to which he
gave the title of the _Legend of Genevieve_, which he dedicated to the
veteran author of the _Man of Feeling_. The titular poem is a
sentimental story written in the manner of Byron's Tales, the remaining
pieces being on miscellaneous subjects. About the same time the first
instalments of _Mansie Wauch_ made their appearance in _Blackwood's
Magazine_, the completed story, with additions, being published as a
book in 1828. Moir was a man of an intensely domestic disposition, and
having become affianced in this year, in the following summer he took to
himself a wife in the person of Miss Catherine Bell of Leith, whom he
espoused in the Church of Carham in Northumberland, celebrating the
occasion by a series of Sonnets on the Scenery of the Tweed. By this
lady he eventually became the father of eleven children. His literary
reputation was now established, and in 1829 Mr Blackwood made him an
offer of the editorship of the _Quarterly Journal of Agriculture_,
which, however, he declined. In remaining constant to the medical
profession, he has been credited with purely philanthropic motives; but,
without bating a jot of my respect for the man, the following (his own)
explanation of the case seems to me the more reasonable one. 'In early
youth,' says he, in a letter to David Vedder, the sailor poet of Orkney,
'I had many aspiring feelings to dedicate my life to literature, and to
literature alone; but I thank God--seeing what I have seen in Galt, in
Hogg, in Hood, and other friends--that I had resolution to resolve on a
profession, and to make poetry my crutch and not my staff. I have, in
consequence, lost the name which, probably, with due exertion, I might
have acquired; but I have gained many domestic blessings which more than
counter-balance it, and I can yet turn to my pen, in my short intervals
of occasional relaxation, with as much zest as in my days of romantic
adolescence.' This is the utterance of a sensible man who, having his
way to make in the world, decides on the expediency of a certain course
and adheres to it. Possibly Moir's estimate of his own powers was a
juster one than that of many of his friends; at any-rate it is
satisfactory to learn that, 'in spite of the common distrust of the
literary character,' he succeeded in making his way as a doctor even in
that place where proverbially a prophet is apt to lack honour. Mr
Blackwood and others of his friends also urged him to leave Musselburgh
and to set up in practice in Edinburgh, offering to use their interest
in obtaining patients for him. But these offers he likewise declined.
His next publication (1831) consisted of _Outlines of the Ancient
History of Medicine_, and was intended as the first instalment of a
complete history of the subject, although increased pressure of
professional duties, occasioned first by the events of the next year and
then by the retirement of his partner in the year following, prevented
his further execution of the design.

The period at which we have now arrived is one of those which have been
rendered terribly memorable by a visitation of cholera, and in the
commencement of 1832 the town of Musselburgh was attacked with special
severity by the epidemic. So great was the terror prevailing throughout
the country that many physicians are said to have fled from their posts,
but now, as also during a later outbreak, was the time when Moir's
character shone out with peculiar lustre. Rising to the height of the
emergency, he was to be found night and day at his post, endeavouring
both to lessen the sufferings of the sick by his medical skill, and to
comfort the dying with the consolations of religion. His humane
exertions on behalf of the poor were, in particular, remarkable. This is
a period regarding which one would gladly supply further facts, for it
is, no doubt, the most interesting in Moir's life, and it is
consequently with regret that we find it passed over in a few lines in
the accredited biography. When that was written, circumstantial details
of his faithful labours might still have been collected, and these would
have brought the man nearer to us than anything else could do. But Aird
has given us nothing but generalities. During the outbreak, Moir held
the post of Secretary to the Board of Health of Musselburgh, and it was
as an answer to numberless enquiries addressed to him in this capacity
that he now wrote and published a pamphlet, entitled 'Practical
Observations on Malignant Cholera,' which, says Aird, flew like
wild-fire through the country, and which he shortly supplemented by
'Proofs of the Contagion of Malignant Cholera.'

No doubt by way of recruiting after his labours, he this year attended
the Meeting of the British Association, which was held at Oxford, and
afterwards visited London, mainly in order to see Galt, with whom he had
become friendly some years before, and who was now living in broken
health at Brompton. On this occasion he had an interview with Coleridge
at Highgate. The sage, who received him in bed, and treated him to 'two
hours of divine monologue,' talked at first of his own early life,
incidentally reciting part of his early-written Monody on the Death of
Chatterton, and so far all went well. But Moir, who had a constitutional
dislike of mysticism, and who ought to have known better, had the
rashness to put a few questions to the poet, 'relative to his peculiar
speculations in philosophy,' and from that moment, needless to say, he
found himself involved in the intricacies of a labyrinth.

As that of a medical man in the full swing of a large practice, Moir's
life now affords but little material to the biographer. In a letter to
Robert Macnish, his dearly-loved friend and brother in medicine and the
muses, he has himself described his daily existence. 'Our business,'
says he, 'has ramified itself so much in all directions of the
compass--save the north, where we are bounded by the sea--that on an
average I have sixteen or eighteen miles' daily riding; nor can this be
commenced before three or four hours of pedestrian exercise has been
hurried through. I seldom get from horseback till five o'clock; and by
half-past six I must be out to the evening rounds, which never terminate
till after nine. Add to this the medical casualties occurring between
sunset and sunrise, and you will see how much can be reasonably set down
to the score of my leisure.' Still, such leisure as he had, he
perseveringly devoted to literature. When driving upon his rounds, he
would read in his carriage; but his chief time for study was after the
house was shut up for the night, when all was quiet around him, and when
he could, with some degree of comfort, sit down in his library to read
and write. 'Even then, however, from the uncertainty of his profession,
he was never altogether sure of his own time. Often did he remark that,
whether it was the contrariety of human nature, or his own peculiar
sensitiveness to interruption at such a time, he was most liable to be
broken in upon when he was most deeply engaged in writing.' Under such
circumstances we cannot wonder that his literary work lacks finish. The
wonder is rather that he did not give up literature altogether; but we
read that he loved it too well to do this, and that he never seemed so
happy as when his mind was employed upon it. As a doctor of literary
men, he exercised a beneficial influence. Shortly before the death of Mr
Blackwood, that gentleman lay ill in Ainslie Place; whilst Galt, who was
also in bad health, was living in lodgings close by. Relations between
the two had been strained, and illness prevented their meeting. But it
is pleasing to read that their mutual respect and esteem were now
renewed, and that Moir, who was in attendance on both, carried kind
messages between them.

A most affectionate parent, Moir had sustained a succession of cruel
bereavements by losing three of his children, who died in early
childhood, within the space of about eighteen months, in the years 1838
and 1839. To relieve his feelings on these occasions, he wrote a series
of elegies, which, after being circulated among his friends, were
published, with a few other poems, in 1843, under the title of _Domestic
Verses_. It is as an elegiac poet--if as a poet at all--that the author
is now remembered, and one of these elegies--called by the
self-conferred name of one of the babes, 'Casa Wappy'--has enjoyed
great popularity and is still included in anthologies, though in my own
opinion a less meritorious composition than the the second of the three
poems on the same subject, entitled 'Casa's Dirge':--

    'Now winter with its snow departs,
      The green leaves clothe the tree;
    But summer smiles not on the hearts
      That bleed and break for thee:
    The young May weaves her flowery crown,
      Her boughs in beauty wave;
    They only shake their blossoms down
      Upon thy silent grave.'

His elegiac muse is sweet and fluent, and breathes the consolations of
Christianity. But, like Motherwell, he is apt to be over-lachrymose and
to insist upon his grief, which is fatal to pathos. His touch, too, is
uncertain. For instance, in one Sonnet we have this fine line,

    'The bliss that feeds upon the heart destroys,'

in near juxta-position with the ridiculous figure,

    'Joy's icicles melt down before Time's sun.'

Here as elsewhere, too, he freely repeats himself. Aird has named _The
Deserted Churchyard_ as Moir's highest imaginative piece. But Aird is no
critic, and description was not Moir's forte. He multiplies
touches--each perhaps good in its way--multiplies them, indeed, to
excess; but to combine and compose them into a whole is beyond him. And
the same defect--the mark either of an inferior talent, or of an
untutored one--is noticeable in his critical portraits. Of his poetry
generally, then, it must be confessed that it belongs to that class
which, finding acceptance to-day, is without significance for the
morrow. But, in justice, it must be remembered that in its own day it
not only pleased the general reader, but also drew warm praises from
such judges as Tennyson, Jeffrey, Wordsworth, and Lockhart. Moir's time,
as we have seen, was not at his disposal, but besides--or perhaps
because of this--he was an impatient composer. He chose--if such things
be determined by choice--to write much rather than to write well. As a
whole his poetry is inferior in style to that of his less prolific
contemporary, Thomas Pringle. And certainly, if poetry is intended to
endure, it must be moulded in some less pliant material than that which
Moir employed.

Not much now remains to tell. In the year after the publication of his
_Domestic Verses_, Moir contracted a serious illness by sitting all
night in damp clothes by the bedside of a patient, and in 1846 his
general health suffered further from the effects of a carriage accident,
which also permanently lamed him. In 1848 he made an excursion, lasting
two and a half days, and meditated during seven previous years, to the
Lake District with Mrs Moir; and in the following year he visited the
Highlands, with Christopher North, who was 'in great force,' Henry
Glassford Bell, and one or two others. In spring of 1851, he delivered a
course of six lectures at the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, his
subject being the Poetical Literature of the Past Half Century. On
appearing on the platform, he had a very warm reception, and his
lectures, proving popular, were soon afterwards published; nor have they
quite lost their interest yet. Of course at the present day no one would
be likely to turn to them for an estimate of the genius, say, of Byron
or of Shelley, or for a summing up of the poetical achievement of
Wordsworth, Coleridge, or Keats. It is in the nature of things that
truth in criticism, as in evidence, is arrived at by a slow process, and
abler pens have dealt with these great writers since Moir's day. But
should anyone wish to know the estimation in which they were held at the
date in question, he will generally find a good indication of it here.
And in so doing, as was inevitable, he will come across some curiosities
of criticism--as, for instance, where the lecturer, speaking of Byron
and Wilson together, as the two rising poetic lights of the year 1812,
adds that 'it is difficult even yet to say which of the two was most
distinguished for general scope of mind, for imaginative and
intellectual power.' Also, should any student desire a sketch--descriptive
rather than critical--of such half-forgotten literary figures as 'Monk'
Lewis and his followers, or of the 'artistic artificial school' of
Hayley, the 'Swan of Lichfield,' and the Della Cruscans, or seek for
appreciative observations on the author of _The Farmer's Boy_, on Kirke
White, or on Samuel Rogers, here he will find them. Besides these
lectures and the works already mentioned, Moir's literary undertakings
include an edition of the works of Mrs Hemans, an Account of the
Antiquities of the Parish of Inveresk, written for the Statistical
Account of Scotland (1845), and a few occasional monographs.

On the 22nd of June of this year, in dismounting from his horse at the
door of a patient's house, Moir sustained further injuries to his
already partially disabled leg. Failing to rally from the effects of
this accident, and hoping to derive benefit from rest and change, about
a week later he set out upon a short excursion. Mrs Moir accompanied
him, and they had reached Ayr, and had visited the cottage where Burns
first saw the light, when the Doctor became seriously ill. Declining
medical assistance, however, he struggled on to Dumfries, where he
became so much worse as to be forced to take to his bed. It was soon
evident that death was at hand. On hearing of his illness, several of
his friends had hastened to his side, and surrounded by these and by
members of his family, faithfully attended by his wife, and fortified by
a firm religious faith, he passed away on the morning of Sunday, the 6th
July. The inhabitants of the town in which he had laboured so
indefatigably decreed him a public funeral, paying every mark of respect
in their power to his memory, and shortly afterwards his statue,
executed by a sculptor named Ritchie, who had been a pupil of
Thorwaldsen, was erected in a commanding situation on the banks of the
river Esk. Besides his professional labours, he had been a Member of the
Council of his native town and of its Kirk Session, had attended the
General Assembly as a Representative Elder, and had acted as Secretary
to a local Reform Committee appointed on the eve of the passing of the
great Bill. In fine, his life had been essentially that of the good
citizen--an honourable part for which we have so high a respect that we
should be glad to see it oftener adorned with literary distinction.

In person Moir was tall, well-formed and erect, of sanguine complexion
and with hair tending to the 'sandy' hue, his keen sense of humour,
during friendly intercourse, being particularly manifest in his
countenance. In private life, he was amiable and exemplary, and much
beloved by many friends, including several distinguished writers--'a
man,' says the writer of his obituary in _Blackwood's Magazine_, 'who,
we verily believe, never had an enemy, and never harboured an angry or
vindictive thought against a human being.' Nor did this proceed from
any lack of determination or force of character, of which he had plenty.

       *       *       *       *       *

Did not one recognise the relation subsisting between humour and pathos,
it would be a surprise to find the melancholy Moir--the mourner of a
score of dirges--figuring as author of a succession of broadly and
farcically comic episodes; for such, in the main, is the _Life of Mansie
Wauch, Tailor in Dalkeith_. The book was conceived in avowed imitation
of Galt; and, in general outline, the autobiographical tailor, with his
unconscious self-revelation, is obviously suggested by the Provosts and
Micah Balwhidders of that writer. For in literature Galt is as much the
originator of the 'pawky' Scotsman of the commercial or professional
class as was the creator of Dinmont and Headrigg of the Scotsman living
on the soil and racy of it. But if Delta borrowed the first idea of the
story from his friend, the means by which he develops it owe little or
nothing to that source. There, indeed, the sprightly little volume
reminds us of a very different class of literature. In their frank
appeal to those who are easily amused (happily a numerous body), and in
the pleasant clownishness of their fooling, a large proportion of the
scenes recall forcibly the ancient folk-tales, 'drolls' and chap-books,
or the more modern collections of local stories founded upon the same,
and the peculiar style of humour associated with such time-honoured
popular favourites as Lothian Tom and George Buchanan, the King's
Jester. Incidents, for instance, like that of James Batter, the weaver,
concealed in the closet during the visit of the Minister, and of his
inopportune fall through the bottomless chair and imprisonment there, or
of the big suit of clothes being sent home to the little man, and the
little suit to the big man, belong to the primeval stock-in-trade of the
rustic humourist; whilst as for the episode of Deacon Paunch and the
cat--probably there are few parishes in the country boasting the
possession of a phenomenally heavy man where some 'variant' of this
story is not current at the present day. The epigram--if I may so call
it--of the book is also conceived after the popular model; as, for
instance, when the aggrieved collier-woman, taunting Cursecowl on the
prominence of one of his features, declares that he has 'run fast when
the noses were dealing'; when it is observed, in reference to the
various grades of society and their interdependence, that 'we all hang
at one another's tails like a rope of ingans'; or when the writer speaks
of an 'evendown pour of rain, washing the very cats off the house-tops,'
or remarks of hopes not quite likely to be fulfilled that 'many a
rottener ship has come to land.' Some of these phrases may perhaps be
proverbial, but at any rate into just such verbal moulds flows, or used
to flow, the expression of the livelier fancy of the people. The Scotch,
too, in which the book is written is singularly rich and racy.

It may possibly be asked whether stories such as those referred to above
have much to gain from literary elaboration, brevity in this peculiar
form of wit appearing perhaps even more than usually desirable. The
answer is that the result has justified the experiment. For one thing,
_Mansie Wauch_--which preceded the _Pickwick Papers_ by some years--is
one of the earliest classic specimens of broad humour which is entirely
free from coarseness; and, secondly, in this instance, most of the
farcical episodes--such as the mock duel, the Volunteering scene, the
scenes in the watch-house or with the dumb spaewife, and the playhouse
scene, where Mansie so artlessly mistakes feigning for reality--are made
in a way to serve the purpose of illustrating character. In the case
last named--even allowing for the tailor's native simplicity, for the
fact that this is his first play, and for the 'three jugs' of which he
has partaken in the company of Glen, the farmer--a pretty strong call is
made on humorous convention, or on the credulity of the reader. But,
after all, in this style of writing, who would 'consider curiously'? No!
give the humourist his head is the rule, concede him a trifle of
exaggeration, and let him make you laugh if he can. This book was never
meant for closets and the midnight oil, but to be read aloud over the
fire on winter's eves in the family circle.

Of course strokes of humorous portraiture somewhat subtler than the
above are by no means wanting, as is shown for instance, in the same
scene, in the fuddled tailor's preoccupation with the clothes worn by
the actors--the good coat 'with double gilt buttons and fashionable
lapells,' or 'the very well-made pair of buckskins, a thought the worse
of the wear, to be sure, but which if they had been cleaned, would have
looked almost as good as new.' But throughout the book little Mansie is
equally 'particular,' especially in regard to clothes,--he has the
loquacity of one occupied in a sedentary manual toil, and the abounding
detail in description of minute occurrences which characterises dwellers
in small towns. The scene of the stampede from the barn, following his
reply to the players, is quite in the best manner of the humourists and
caricaturists of that day,--when uncouth persons tumbling one over the
other in their haste, coat-tails torn off, bull-dogs fastening teeth in
human calves, and wigs flying to the winds, seem to have constituted a
never-failing resource for 'bringing down the house.' Pity that, like
Mercutio, we are become grave men since then! However by far the best
scene of this sort--a classic of its kind--is that which paints the
inroad of the gigantic butcher, infuriated at the misfit of his new
killing-coat, into the tailor's shop, and the subsequent tussle between
him on the one hand and Tommy Bodkin, the three 'prentices, Mansie, and
James Batter on the other. Everywhere George Cruikshank, the illustrator
of the book, is neck and neck with the author, hitting off the very
spirit of his fun, and indeed sometimes adding a point to it; but in his
delineations of this scene and of that with the spaewife he surpasses

Of course the book would not be Moir's if it entirely lacked poetic and
pathetic relief, which is supplied in the contents of the papers found
in the Welshman's coat-pocket; in the episode of Mungo Glen, the
apprentice from the Lammermoors, who dies of home-sickness and of a
country boy's hatred of the town, and in the story of the _Maid of

Of the character of Mansie--the keystone, so to speak, of the book--it
cannot be said that it stands out with the firmness and clearness of
Galt's best work in the kind, still less of one of Miss Ferrier's
inimitable creations. Yet, if somewhat faintly limned, the little
tailor--so eager, so busy, and so thrifty, such a queer mixture of
guilelessness, shrewdness, and superstition, 'a douce elder of Maister
Wiggie's kirk,' and abounding in Scriptural allusion accordingly,
cautious, yet apt to be 'overtaken' as well as overreached, but with his
heart exactly in the right place--is a figure who in the long run wins
and holds a place in our sympathy. In the course of his professional
avocations, Moir may have had occasion to observe that tailors generally
are a nervous race of men, and from the commencement of the narrative we
are shown that Mansie is full of groundless fears and anxieties--terrified
to discharge his musket when on parade as a Volunteer, and frightened
out of his wits in the Kirk Session house by night. And yet in the hour
of need, when house and home are in danger on the night of the fire, we
see him brave as a lion and brimful of resource--saving 'the precious
life of a woman of eighty that had been four long years bed-ridden,' and
by well-directed efforts with his bucket accomplishing more than the
local fire-engine had done. Such a contrast as this--at once effective
and true to human nature--or as that where Mansie, finding the escaped
French prisoner concealed in his coal-hole, is divided between wrath
against the enemy of his country and sympathy for a fellow-creature in
distress, put the finishing touches to a genial figure, which in our
Scottish national literature has a little niche of its own.


Susan Edmonstone Ferrier, the great mistress of the novel of manners in
Scotland, was born in Edinburgh on the 7th September 1782, and was the
youngest of her parents' ten children. Her father, James Ferrier, was a
younger son of John Ferrier, laird of Kirklands, in Renfrewshire, and
her mother--whose maiden name was Helen Coutts--was the daughter of a
farmer near Montrose. James Ferrier was by profession a Writer to the
Signet, having been admitted a member of the Society in the year 1770.
He had been trained to his vocation in the office of a distant relative,
who had the management of the Argyll estates, and to this gentleman's
business he ultimately succeeded. He was thus on terms of intimacy with
the Duke of Argyll, through whose instrumentality he was appointed a
Principal Clerk of Session. In this office he had Sir Walter Scott as a
colleague, and he was also so fortunate as to enjoy the friendship of
Henry Mackenzie, author of the admirable _Man of Feeling_, of Dr Blair,
and last, not least, of Burns. Thus, from her earliest years onward, his
young daughter must have been accustomed to see and to hear of the
literary lights of the Scotland of that day.

After their marriage, Mr and Mrs Ferrier occupied a flat in Lady Stair's
Close in the Old Town. Their large family was made up of six sons and
four daughters. When Susan was fifteen she lost her mother, and soon
afterwards she was taken by her father to visit at Inverary Castle, the
seat of his patron the Duke. Here a new world was opened to the plainly
brought up Edinburgh girl. Here for the first time she saw fashion and
the 'high life,' and here--either on this or some subsequent
occasion--she formed several acquaintances which were destined to
influence her career. Under John, fifth Duke of Argyll, society at the
Castle had at that period a somewhat literary and artistic tone. Among
its visitors was the accomplished Lady Charlotte Campbell--afterwards
Lady Charlotte Bury--a name which, if unknown to the present generation,
was once of some repute in the world of letters. Lady Charlotte was the
Duke's younger daughter, and had inherited much of the beauty of her
mother, the celebrated Elizabeth Gunning. She was just seven years older
than Susan Ferrier, was distinguished by a passion for the
_belles-lettres_, and was accustomed to do the honours of Scotland to
the literary celebrities of the time. During the year of Miss Ferrier's
first visit to the Castle, she published anonymously a first literary
venture, which bore the conventional title of 'Poems upon Several
Occasions,' by 'A Lady.'

It may readily be guessed that this fascinating and high-born
personage--distinguished as she was by the honours and the romance of
authorship--produced her due impression on the imagination of the young
visitor. Susan's literary instincts must certainly have been quickened
by the intimacy--for a friendship which lasted till death sprung up
between herself and Lady Charlotte. But, if she was a gainer in one
direction from the acquaintance, I am inclined to believe that she was a
loser in another. Years after, when she herself became an authoress,
her earliest work was disfigured by direct and unsparing portraiture of
living persons among her acquaintance. Now no doubt this kind of writing
may be productive of extreme mirth to persons qualified to read between
the lines, and it must be acknowledged that Miss Ferrier's talent has
made the mirth outlast its immediate occasion. Still, judged as art,
this kind of thing is neither great nor gracious, and to her credit be
it said that the authoress of _Marriage_ lived to see that this was so,
and to amend her style accordingly. It may be noted, however, that the
works attributed to her friend Lady Charlotte include conspicuous
instances of a similar error in taste. Amid the vicissitudes of many
years, her ladyship lived to produce a number of works of fiction, of
the contents of which such titles as _Flirtation_, _The Journal of the
Heart_, _A Marriage in High Life_, may afford some indication. But the
single work with which in the present day her name is associated--and if
she never acknowledged the authorship, it must be remembered that she
resisted all provocations to deny it--is the notorious Diary in which a
lady-in-waiting of Caroline of Brunswick has chronicled the follies and
indiscretions of that unhappy princess, and the unpleasantnesses of
daily life in her Court. Bearing this in mind, one can scarcely regard
the brilliant Lady Charlotte as the best of friends for a young woman,
her inferior in years and station, though greatly her superior in

Among other visitors met by Susan at Inverary, two may be particularised
as having afterwards contributed by their oddities to enliven the pages
of her first book. These were the eccentric Mrs Seymour Damer, the
amateur sculptor and friend of Horace Walpole, and Lady Ferrers, widow
of the peer who was hanged for the murder of his steward. With a Miss
Clavering, a grand-daughter of the Duke, who was a child of eight at the
time of her first visit to the Castle, she struck up an eager
friendship. An animated correspondence was started between them, some of
the letters in which have been preserved. These are for the most part
undated, but have reference to a work of fiction which the young ladies
proposed to undertake in partnership, and it is thus that the germ of
_Marriage_ is first brought to light.

'I do not recollect,' says Miss Ferrier, writing in high spirits; 'I do
not recollect ever to have seen the sudden transition of a high-bred
English beauty, who thinks she can sacrifice all for love, to an
uncomfortable solitary highland dwelling among tall red-haired sisters
and grim-faced aunts. Don't you think this would make a good opening of
the piece? Suppose each of us try our hands on it.' And, later on, after
submitting a portion of her work, she writes again:--'I am boiling to
hear from you, but I've taken a remorse of conscience about Lady
Maclaughlan and her friends: if I was ever to be detected, or even
suspected, I would have nothing for it but to drown myself. I mean,
therefore, to let her alone till I hear from you, as I think we might
compound some other kind of character for her that might do as well and
not be so dangerous. As to the misses, if ever it was to be published
they must be altered or I must fly my native land.'

In this passage, even after allowing for girlish facetiousness of
expression, Susan Ferrier appears in the character of an accomplished
'quiz,' sailing dangerously close to the wind. Of course her
correspondent is delighted with the specimen of work submitted to her,
and will not hear of anything being altered. What school-girl would? She
essays to allay her friend's fear of discovery, and offers to take the
responsibility of the personalities upon herself. In a subsequent
letter, dated December 1810, she describes reading the manuscript to
Lady Charlotte during a drive. Her ladyship laughed as she had never
been seen to laugh before, and pronounced the fragment 'without the
least exception the cleverest thing that ever was written'--a verdict
which after more detailed examination she endorsed in writing, declaring
it to be '_capital_, with a dash under it.' Not otherwise do the
thoughtless and light-hearted egg each other on to mischief.

But Miss Ferrier was by this time eight-and-twenty years of age. Her
native strong good sense asserted itself, and for a long time she
resolutely declined to publish her work. (I ought ere this to have
explained that the intended collaboration with Miss Clavering had fallen
through, the sole passage contributed by the younger lady being the
brief and not particularly interesting _History of Mrs Douglas_). In
course of time, however, the merits of the book became known to persons
having more authority to judge them than Lady Charlotte Bury or her
niece. Mr Blackwood, the publisher, read the manuscript, and strongly
urged the authoress to prepare it for publication; whilst no less a
personage than Sir Walter Scott, in the conclusion to his _Tales of My
Landlord_--then seemingly in proof--referred flatteringly to a 'very
lively work entitled _Marriage_,' and singled out its author for mention
among writers of fiction capable of gathering in the rich harvest
afforded by Scottish character. At length, in 1818--after undergoing
several changes in the interval--the book was given to the world. It was
published anonymously, and the authoress, speaking at a later date,
professes to have believed that her name 'never would be guessed at, or
the work heard of beyond a very limited sphere.' But from such obscurity
the gallery of portraits which it contained must alone have sufficed to
save it. For, in addition to the two ladies already mentioned--whose
oddities appear to have contributed jointly to the inimitable figure of
Lady Maclaughlan--the three spinster aunts were drawn from certain
Misses Edmonstone, whilst Mrs Fox represented Mary, Lady Clerk, a
well-known Edinburgh character of the time. It must not, however, be
supposed that the vogue of the book depended upon adventitious
circumstances alone; for _Marriage_ soon became popular far beyond the
limits of any local set. In London it was attributed to the pen of Sir
Walter Scott, and it is even stated to have been very successful in a
French translation.

Its success at home can surprise no one, for never before had the
idiosyncrasies of Scottish society been so vigorously pourtrayed. As has
already been seen, the means adopted for showing them off are
ingeniously contrived. At the commencement of the story we are
introduced to the beautiful but shallow and artificial Juliana, the Earl
of Courtland's only daughter--a young lady who has been trained solely
with a view to social success and the formation of a brilliant alliance,
the more solid parts of education having in her case been systematically
neglected. She is betrothed to the elderly Duke of L----, but at the
last moment throws him over and elopes to Scotland. The companion of her
flight is Douglas, a handsome young officer in the army, the child of
Scotch parents, but brought up in England by a wealthy adoptive father.
The honeymoon is scarce over when the young people find themselves, not
only partially disabused of their illusions, but in actual pecuniary
straits. Juliana's elopement has hopelessly alienated the Earl; whilst
Douglas, absent from his regiment without leave, is superseded in the
_Gazette_. In these circumstances the only course open to them is to
take up their quarters with the bridegroom's father, at his castle of
Glenfern in the Highlands. Their proposal to do so is most cordially
received, and now the irony of circumstance begins to declare itself.
Lady Juliana has repeatedly protested that with the man of her choice
she could be happy in a desert. But then her idea of a desert, as she
avows when 'tis too late, is a beautiful place full of roses and
myrtles, which, though very retired, would not be absolutely out of the
world; where one could occasionally see one's friends and give
_déjeuners_ and _fêtes champêtres_. A very different kind of place is
Glenfern Castle. After a long journey in a drizzling rain through dreary
scenery, their destination is reached, and Juliana makes her _entrée_,
attended by her footman and lady's-maid, surrounded by her lap-dogs,
squirrel, and mackaw, and encumbered by all the paraphernalia of an
artificial elegance. Never was there a meeting between more opposed

    'At the entrance of the strangers, a flock of females rushed forward
    to meet them. Douglas good-humouredly submitted to be hugged by
    three long-chinned spinsters whom he recognised as his aunts, and
    warmly saluted five awkward purple girls he guessed to be his
    sisters: while Lady Juliana stood the image of despair, and,
    scarcely conscious, admitted in silence the civilities of her new

The three elderly spinsters are the Laird's sisters--Miss Jacky, who is
esteemed the most sensible woman as well as the greatest orator in the
parish, Miss Grizzy the platitudinous, and Miss Nicky, who is not
wanting in sense either; and these representatives of a bygone social
order are the most celebrated characters in the book.

Appalled by the sight of the surroundings amid which her life is to be
spent, and distressed by the insolence of a pampered lady's-maid who
instantly throws up her place, Juliana presently succumbs to hysterics.

    'Douglas now attempted to account for the behaviour of his noble
    spouse by ascribing it to the fatigue she had lately undergone,
    joined to distress of mind at her father's unrelenting severity
    towards her.

    '"O the amiable creature!" interrupted the unsuspecting spinsters,
    almost stifling her with their caresses as they spoke. "Welcome, a
    thousand times welcome, to Glenfern Castle!" said Miss Jacky.
    "Nothing shall be wanting, dearest Lady Juliana, to compensate for a
    parent's rigour, and make you happy and comfortable. Consider this
    as your future home. My sisters and myself will be as mothers to
    you: and see these charming young creatures," dragging forward two
    tall frightened girls, with sandy hair and great purple arms; "thank
    Providence for having blest you with such sisters!"

    '"Don't speak too much, Jacky, to our dear niece at present," said
    Miss Grizzy; "I think one of Lady Maclaughlan's composing draughts
    would be the best thing for her--there can be no doubt about that."

    '"Composing draughts at this time of day!" cried Miss Nicky; "I
    should think a little good broth a much wiser thing. There are some
    excellent family broth making below, and I'll desire Tibby to bring
    a few."

    '"Will you take a little soup, love?" asked Douglas. His lady
    assented; and Miss Nicky vanished, but quickly re-entered, followed
    by Tibby, carrying a huge bowl of coarse Scotch broth, swimming with
    leeks, greens, and grease. Lady Juliana attempted to taste it, but
    her delicate palate revolted at the homely fare; and she gave up
    the attempt, in spite of Miss Nicky's earnest entreaties to take a
    few more of these excellent family broth.

    '"I should think," said Henry, as he vainly attempted to stir it
    round, "that a little wine would be more to the purpose than this

    'The aunts looked at each other; and, withdrawing to a corner, a
    whispering consultation took place, in which "Lady Maclaughlan's
    opinion, birch, balm, currant, heating, cooling, running risks," &c.
    &c. transpired. At length the question was carried; and some
    tolerable sherry, and a piece of very substantial _short-bread_,
    were produced.

    'It was now voted by Miss Jacky, and carried _nem. con._, that her
    ladyship ought to take a little repose till the hour of dinner.'

So bad begins, but worse remains behind; for these are but the
occurrences of a few hours, whilst the visit is to be of long duration.
However enough has been said to indicate the lines along which the story
now develops. The feather-pate Juliana is not of those to whom Time
brings wisdom, and a further acquaintance with her surroundings only
serves to bring to light fresh disgusts. The gaunt apparitions of the
first evening grow no less tiresome as she knows them better, no less
hopelessly remote from every habit, tradition or association of her
life. But her poison is the reader's meat. In the course of the next few
pages we are introduced to Miss Grizzy's friend, Lady Maclaughlan, a
distinguished amateur of medicine and an object of awed admiration to
the sisters. As this lady steps upon the scene--fearfully and
wonderfully attired, and bearing in her hand her gold-headed cane--with
her deep-toned voice, her mercilessly blunt remarks, and her
uncompromising 'humph!'--her ineffectually recalcitrant little husband
borne behind her much as if he were a parcel--she is certainly one of
the most memorable figures in all fiction. And among the most laughable
scenes in all fiction must certainly be counted those in which in high
dudgeon she cuts short her visit to Glenfern Castle, and--still better,
and indeed unsurpassable--in which the ill-starred spinsters, mistaking
the day, arrive to visit her when they are not expected.

Nor must it for a moment be supposed that such creations as this and the
Aunts are mere masterpieces of the caricaturist. In Miss Ferrier's best
characters it may almost be said to be a rule that caricature enters
only into the details, and is never allowed to interfere with the main
outline. An accusation far more justly to be brought against the
authoress of this book is that of hard-heartedness, or a defect of
sympathy and even of toleration for her own creations. Susan Ferrier was
an uncompromisingly candid woman, as her interesting account of the
visits paid by her to Sir Walter Scott are enough to show. That her
heart was a kind one we know; but when she took pen in hand it was not
her way to extenuate anything. Neither was she given to view persons or
occurrences through any softening light of imagination or feeling. 'What
a cruel thing is a farce to those engaged in it!' wrote another Scottish
author. But she, having devised a farcically cruel situation, squares
her shoulders and regards its development with a ruthlessness more
proper perhaps to science than to art. Not a touch of compunction has
she for her heroine--who, intolerably selfish and heartless as she is,
is yet but a child and the victim of the harshest circumstance; not a
touch of pity for the pathos and repression of such lives as those of
the Aunts. In a word, tolerance is not her strong point. And, admirable
as it is, her art yet suffers by the limitation of her sympathies. For
one pines for the hundred little humanising touches by virtue of which
the same characters--living though they be--might have lived with a
fuller and more gracious life. It is stated that Miss Ferrier's
favourite author was La Bruyère, and in such studies as those of Lady
Placid and Mrs Wiseacre he is obviously the model followed. And, though
her best creations surpass those of her master as a living character
will always surpass an abstract type, yet in this, her earliest effort,
she still retains a good deal too much of the frigid intellectual method
of the Frenchman.

What will, perhaps, more generally be considered a legitimate ground for
the unpleasant task of fault-finding is, however, the extremely
inartistic construction of the book. As we approach the middle, we are
surprised to find the interest shifted to an almost entirely new set of
characters, who belong to a new generation. Thus at a time when Lady
Juliana cannot be much more than eighteen years of age, she ceases to be
prominent in the story, and after the briefest interval we are called on
to follow the fortunes of her twin daughters, who are now nearing that
age. The bridegroom, Douglas, and two of the Aunts disappear altogether
from the book; and this is the more to be regretted because there are
few readers but will infinitely prefer the racy humours of the elder
generation to the insipid long-drawn-out love-affairs of the contrasted
sisters, even when these are more or less successfully enlivened by the
sallies of the shrewd Lady Emily, by the caricature figure of Dr Redgill
the _gourmand_, and by the absurdities of the literary _précieuses_ of

The success of _Marriage_, justified by its painting of Scottish manners
and by the figures of Lady Maclaughlan and the spinster aunts, had the
right effect upon the sterling Scottish character of the authoress. It
led her to try how much better still she could do. Six years elapsed
before the appearance of her next book, which was published in
1824--like its predecessor, anonymously. Indeed secrecy as to her
literary undertakings appears to have been one of the novelist's
strongest desires; and, writing much of _The Inheritance_ at Morningside
House, near Edinburgh--where her father spent the summers--she complains
of the smallness of the house as making concealment very difficult.

In the endeavour to improve upon her first achievement, Miss Ferrier was
triumphantly successful. 'The new book,' wrote one of Mr Blackwood's
correspondents at the time of its publication, 'is a hundred miles above
_Marriage_.' Nor does this assertion overshoot the mark; for if the one
is at most a bit of brilliant promise, the other is a superb
performance. Foremost among its advantages must be counted, in place of
the slip-slop of _Marriage_, an interesting and admirably-compacted
plot, and a vigorous literary style--the latter marked indeed, yet not
marred, by a mannerism of literary quotation. What was shapeless and
redundant in _Marriage_ is here moulded and restrained by exigencies of
the story, with the result that characters well-defined, and skilfully
contrasted and relieved, confront the reader standing boldly and firmly
on their feet.

Several features of _The Inheritance_ seem to have been suggested by the
celebrated Douglas Cause. The Honourable Thomas St Clair, youngest son
of the Earl of Rossville, has forfeited the countenance of his family by
marrying out of his own rank in life. He settles with his wife in
France, and here in the course of years a succession of deaths places
him in the position of heir-presumptive to the earldom. He announces at
head-quarters the important tidings that Mrs St Clair is expecting to
be confined, and having done so, with the Earl's concurrence he and his
wife prepare to return to Scotland. But the confinement takes place,
prematurely, on the journey. A female child is born, after which event
the projected return is indefinitely postponed. So much by way of proem.
The opening of the story shows us Mrs St Clair, now a widow, and her
daughter, Gertrude, a beautiful and blooming maiden, taking up their
abode with the elderly and unmarried Lord Rossville, who recognises the
young lady as heiress to his title and estates. Under his roof,
attention is drawn to a likeness existing between Gertrude and the
portrait of one Lizzie Lundie, a low-born beauty of a bygone day, who
had sat as model for a painting in the Castle. This resemblance is
noticed by more than one person, and on more than one occasion, and
reference to it is generally accompanied by marks of agitation in Mrs St
Clair. Meantime the youthful heiress has won the admiration of two young
men, cousins of her own, who frequent the Castle--the handsome and
elegant Colonel Delmour, a man of fashion and of the world, and the less
showy but far deeper-natured Edward Lyndsay. A singular meeting now
takes place between Mrs St Clair and a stranger named Lewiston, and soon
afterwards it becomes apparent that the latter exercises a great, though
unexplained, power over the lady. The stranger's identity is presently
revealed as that of the husband--long supposed to be dead--of a nurse of
Gertrude's, to whom she had been tenderly attached. At a nocturnal
meeting with Lewiston, at which Mrs St Clair has by entreaty, and by
throwing out vague threats, compelled her daughter to be present,
Lyndsay arrives upon the scene in time to save Gertrude from
molestation, and thus earns her gratitude. However Delmour now declares
his passion, which Gertrude returns--with the result that an
understanding is come to between them. But the Earl has other intentions
regarding the disposal of the hand of his heir, which for family and
political reasons he designs to confer upon the Colonel's elder brother,
a colourless man-of-affairs. By asserting her independence in this
matter, Gertrude provokes Lord Rossville's displeasure; but the
unforeseen effect of his lordship's purblind and blundering intervention
is merely to bring to light the fact that Lyndsay also is in love with
his beautiful cousin. The Earl, who has power to dispose of his
possessions as he pleases, is meditating to disinherit Gertrude on
account of her disobedience, when his sudden death leaves her free to
follow her own wishes. In the meantime, Delmour's conduct has supplied
ground for doubting the purity of his motives; whilst Lyndsay, who has
again come to her rescue in a trying interview with Lewiston, has shown
himself throughout a staunch friend to her best interests. But Gertrude
is now Countess of Rossville in her own right; her lover returns to her
side, and she is herself too noble-minded to question his
disinterestedness. Under his influence she launches out into a variety
of extravagant schemes, and going to London, where she becomes the
admired of all admirers, devotes herself wholly to the pleasures of
society, which for a time have rather an injurious effect upon her
character. Lyndsay makes an appeal to her better self, but amid the
excitement of her surroundings his remonstrance passes unheeded. Jaded
by the excesses of fashionable life, at the end of the season she
returns to Rossville, where the intrusive Lewiston, who has been
thought drowned, now again appears upon the scene, and provoked by her
disdainful treatment divulges the secret that she is the daughter, not
of Mrs St Clair, but of her nurse, and that consequently she has no
title to her present position. Overwhelmed by this intelligence, which
Mrs St Clair's confession confirms, Gertrude loses no time in informing
her lover of the true state of matters, and in so doing reveals the
miserable shallowness of his nature. Delmour's love for the beautiful
and high-spirited girl is genuine; but nameless and without fortune as
she now is, he hesitates to fulfil his engagement towards her. Her love
for him has been of such a different nature that she is well-nigh
broken-hearted by the discovery. But the faithful Lyndsay stands her
friend in need, and the book closes with her reinstatement, long
afterwards, as his wife, in the brilliant position which she has already
wrongly, though innocently, occupied.

The plot of _The Inheritance_, of which the above is a sketch, is a
model of its kind, whilst from first to last the conduct of the
narrative is perfect. Indeed the _form_ of the story could not be
improved--a rare merit even in a masterpiece of British fiction; and
though the book is a long one, it contains not a superfluous page. Among
the numerous authors quoted in the course of it are Shakespeare and the
Greek dramatists, and perhaps, without stretching probability too far,
we may assume that the authoress had studied the latter as well as the
former. In any case _The Inheritance_ in its own degree unites principal
characteristics of the Greek and the Shakespearian drama, for the web of
circumstance inexorably woven about the innocent and unconscious heroine
is entirely in the manner of the first, whilst the indifferent,
life-like alternation of tragic and ludicrous incident in the narrative
is of a piece with Shakespeare's irony. No finer example of the latter
could be cited than the impressive scene in which Lord Rossville,
looking blankly from his window one snowy afternoon, is amazed to see a
hearse approaching the Castle. Out of the vehicle, when it has reached
the door, steps his lordship's pet aversion and the reader's
delight--the undaunted and ubiquitous Miss Pratt. The voluble lady has a
long story to tell of the circumstances which have compelled her to
resort to this unconventional mode of conveyance, whilst the pompous
Earl is scandalised at the general impropriety of the proceedings, and
especially at thought of the hearse of Mr McVitae, the Radical
distiller, putting up for the night at the Castle. However there is no
help for it; nor as it turns out is the visit so ill-timed as had
seemed, for the next morning Lord Rossville is discovered dead upon his

But if the book is remarkable for its admirable story, certainly not
less remarkable is it for the extraordinary wealth of character which it
portrays. Probably few 'novels of plot' are so rich in character, few
'novels of character' so strong in plot. It may be that some carping
critic of the ungentle sex will be found to object to Lyndsay and to
Delmour, the contrasted lovers of the heroine, as to 'a woman's men'--to
urge that their demeanour is too consistently emotional, too
demonstrative, to be founded upon any very solid base of character or of
disposition. But supposing (which I am far from granting) that there
were some truth in this, here at any rate all ground even for
hypercriticism must end. And where in fiction is there a heroine more
charming and more lovable than Gertrude St Clair--gentle yet
high-spirited as she is, natural, and the soul of truth? Her pretended
mother--ambitious and worldly-minded, violent, embittered by the slights
and mortifications of her youth and bent vindictively upon
retaliation--rises to the dignity of tragedy. Then we have the
inimitable rattle and busybody, Miss Pratt, at home everywhere except in
her own house, and incessantly referring to the sayings and doings of an
invisible 'Anthony Whyte'--a very masterpiece of humorous delineation;
and old Adam Ramsay, the cross-grained, misanthropic, Indian uncle, who
yet compels our sympathy by his sentimental attachment to the home of
his boyhood, and his constancy to the memory of his ill-starred love.
Miss Bell Black, afterwards Mrs Major Waddell, is delightful in her
perfect inanity and fatuity; and though her creator may not yet have
learned to suffer fools gladly, she certainly has by this time mastered
the art of portraying 'as though she loved' them. The Earl of Rossville,
puffed up by a sense of his own importance, long-winded, sesquepedalian
and null; Miss Lilly, the poetess, her Cockney lover and her brothers;
gentle Anne Black; Miss Becky Duguid, the accommodating poor relation;
Mrs Fairbairn, the materfamilias; and the peasant-woman whose misguided
foresight leads her to prepare betimes her ailing husband's
dead-clothes,--all of them are admirable, and all bear evidence of being
freshly observed from the life. But the writer has learnt the lesson of
substituting poetic for local truth; and if any portraits appear in this
gallery--and it is stated that Adam Ramsay to some extent represents the
authoress's father--they are such as can no longer rightly give offence
to anyone. Miss Ferrier had reached middle life when she wrote _The
Inheritance_, and perhaps the laughter which it provokes is less
boisterous than that aroused by the first essays of her youth. But for a
scene of high comedy--to select one from many--the first conversation of
Miss Pratt and Uncle Adam would certainly be difficult to surpass.
Finally, we have abundant evidence that in all that she wrote our
authoress was actuated by a genuine desire for the moral and religious
welfare of her reader; but in comparison to that of _Marriage_, her
_tone_ in this book is as is the influence of a well-guided life to a
sententious homily delivered from a pulpit. In one word, there is no
single point in her art in which she has not risen from what is crude
and tentative to what is finished and masterly.

As it well deserved to be, _The Inheritance_ was a great success, and
amongst those from whom it elicited warm commendation the names of
Jeffrey and Sir Walter Scott may be particularised. Some of the chief
comic actors of the day wished to have it produced upon the stage, with
which object the manager of Covent Garden Theatre applied to Mrs Gore,
the novelist, for a dramatic version of the story. But that lady's
intentions were anticipated by one Fitzball, a purveyor of transpontine
wares in the kind, to whose unfitness for his task the complete failure
of the play, when it came to be produced, may probably be ascribed. For
in its strong, well-developed plot, and diversified characterisation,
the story possesses in a high degree the chief requisites of a
successful stage-play. _The Inheritance_ has also the distinction of
having furnished to Tennyson the outline of his beautiful ballad of
_Lady Clare_.

Miss Ferrier was a very careful craftswoman--a fact to which much of her
success has been attributed--and it was not until 1831 that her next
book, _Destiny_, appeared. Much of it was written at Stirling Castle,
while she was on a visit to the wife of the Governor of the garrison.
The new novel was dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, to whom the authoress
had good reason to feel obliged, for it was largely in consequence of
his skilful bargaining that she had received for it the large sum of
£1700 from Cadell. The prices paid to her by Blackwood for her two
previous books had been £150 and £1000 respectively.

As _The Inheritance_ represents the meridian of the writer's powers, so
_Destiny_ represents their decline--not because there are not some as
good things, or very nearly as good things, in the latter as in the
former, but because the whole is very much less good. The construction
of _Destiny_ is loose and inartificial, and almost from the outset the
want of a strong frame-work which shall hold the contents together and
keep them in place makes itself felt. Properly speaking, there are two
stories in the story,--namely, that which centres in the disposal of the
Inch Orran property and the adventures of Ronald Malcolm, and that which
concerns itself with the development of the relations between Edith and
her recalcitrant lover. In itself of course this would be no defect, but
instead of being interwoven, or subordinated one to the other, the two
stories are allowed to run parallel and distinct until near the end of
the book. Thus their interest is dissipated--an effect which diffuseness
of treatment materially increases. Idle pages and straggling incidents
abound, and in fact the sense of form which was so conspicuous in _The
Inheritance_ is in _Destiny_ conspicuous only by absence.

If we judge it as an essay in character-painting, rather than as a
story, no doubt the novel comes off better. Again, as in _The
Inheritance_, we have a gallery of masterly portraits--though this time
the collection is smaller, and the paintings less highly-finished; and
again we feel that these portraits are drawn, not from some conventional
limbo of the novelist's, but from observation of life itself, backed up
by true imagination. Among the group, the Reverend Duncan M'Dow bears
off the palm from all competitors. This insufferable person,
imperturbable in his own conceit--with his horse-laugh over his own
jocularity, his grossness of manners, his greed for 'augmentation,' and
his wounded self-love mingling with overweening vanity at the end of the
book--is a piece of life itself, and the description of his
luncheon-party is as good as anything accomplished by the authoress. The
incarnation of fashionable selfishness and frivolity in the person of
Lady Elizabeth Malcolm runs him close; but she is probably a less
entirely original creation than the Minister--not that she is in any
sense a copy, but that the same sort of model has been oftener studied.
If we seek for something pleasanter to contemplate, the simple
warm-hearted Molly Macauley, the dreamer of dreams, and the devoted
adherent of the Chief who snubs her, is an endearing figure. The Chief
himself, who loves good eating, and does not disdain to truckle to his
rich childless kinsman, is a conspicuous example of materialisation and
degeneracy, though the dotage of his 'debilitated mind and despotic
temper' becomes almost as tiresome to the reader as it became to Edith
and Sir Reginald. The key to the character of Benbowie, Glenroy's echo,
is not quite apparent, and we should have liked to be assured (as we
believe) that it was mere ineptitude, and not meanness, which caused him
to disappear so hastily on an important occasion when money was
required, and to return bringing it with him when it could no longer be
of use. The vignettes of Inch Orran, the 'particular man,' and his wife,
also stand out in the memory, as does that of the odious Madame Latour.
And from this it will be seen that, with one or two exceptions, the more
disagreeable personages of the book remain the most in evidence, for the
Conways and the family of Captain Malcolm fade into insignificance
beside those whose names are enumerated above. And, though the crux is
an old one, where the high purpose of the writer is so much insisted on,
perhaps it may not be unfair to enquire how far exactly she can be held
to succeed in her aims, when even the regenerate reader is ill at ease
in the company of her good characters and enjoys himself among her awful
examples. The artificiality of some of its dialogues and the triteness
of some of its reflections are further symptoms of the enervation which
has begun to invade the book.

Miss Ferrier's history is the history of her books, and to these remarks
upon her final literary production little need be added. Her mother
being dead, and her three sisters married, it fell to her lot to keep
house for her father, to whom she was devotedly attached, and with him
she continued to reside until his death in January 1829. Her life, which
was divided between Morningside House and Edinburgh, and varied by
occasional visits to her sisters, is described as a very quiet one, and
if we may accept the Adam Ramsay of _The Inheritance_ as at all a close
portrait of Mr Ferrier, it must have had its grim side too. She had long
suffered from her eyes, and in 1830 she paid her final visit to London,
in order to consult an oculist. From his treatment, however, she seems
to have derived little benefit; her eyesight failed, and it became
necessary for her to spend much of her time in a darkened room; and
though she still continued occasionally to receive a few friends at tea
in the evening, her life from henceforth was a very retired one. She
died in Edinburgh, on the 5th November 1854, at the house of her
brother, Mr Walter Ferrier, and was interred in St Cuthbert's

Her dislike of publicity characterized her to the last. It was not until
1851, when a new edition of her works was published, that she consented
to allow her name to appear upon the title-page, whilst her
unwillingness to be made the subject of a biography led her to destroy
all letters which might have been used for such a purpose, and in
particular a correspondence with one of her sisters, which contained
much biographical matter. The records of her life are consequently few,
but the following testimony of an intimate friend is interesting:--

    'The wonderful vivacity she maintained in the midst of darkness and
    pain for so many years, the humour, wit, and honesty of her
    character, as well as the Christian submission with which she bore
    her great privation and general discomfort, when not suffering acute
    pain, made everyone who knew her desirous to alleviate the
    tediousness of her days; and I used to read a great deal to her at
    one time, and I never left her darkened chamber without feeling that
    I had gained something better than the book we might be reading,
    from her quick perception of its faults and its beauties, and her
    unmerciful remarks on all that was mean or unworthy in conduct or

Still more interesting is the sentence in Scott's diary which describes
her as 'A gifted personage, having, besides her great talents,
conversation the least _exigeante_ of any author-female, at least, whom
I have ever seen among the long list I have encountered; simple, full of
humour, and exceedingly ready at repartee, and all this without the
least affectation of the blue-stocking.' Of her considerate kindness to
the author of _Waverley_, then in failing health, on the occasion of her
last visit to Abbotsford, Lockhart gives this pleasing description:--

    'To assist in amusing him in the hours which he spent out of his
    study, and especially that he might make these hours more frequent,
    his daughter had invited his friend the authoress of _Marriage_ to
    come out to Abbotsford; and her coming was serviceable. For she knew
    and loved him well, and she had seen enough of affliction akin to
    his to be well skilled in dealing with it. She could not be an hour
    in his company without observing what filled his children with more
    sorrow than all the rest of the case. He would begin a story as
    gaily as ever, and go on, in spite of the hesitation in his speech,
    to tell it with highly picturesque effect; but before he reached the
    point, it would seem as if some internal spring had given way. He
    paused and gazed around him with the blank anxiety of look that a
    blind man has when he has dropped his staff. Unthinking friends
    sometimes gave him the catchword abruptly. I noticed the delicacy of
    Miss Ferrier on such occasions. Her sight was bad, and she took care
    not to use her glasses when he was speaking, and she affected also
    to be troubled with deafness, and would say, "Well, I am getting as
    dull as a post, I have not heard a word since you said so and so,"
    being sure to mention a circumstance behind that at which he had
    really halted. He then took up the thread with his habitual smile of
    courtesy, as if forgetting his case entirely in the consideration of
    the lady's infirmity.'

In conclusion, if Miss Ferrier's work lacks the sweetness and delicacy
of Miss Austin's, it has at its best a strength to which her English
sister's makes no pretension. The portraits of the former are _bitten
in_ with a powerful acid unknown in the chemistry of the latter. But if
she was sometimes _downright_ to the verge of cruelty, Miss Ferrier's
view of life was a sound one. She strikes unsparingly at the rawness and
self-sufficiency which are characteristic defects of such large numbers
of our countrymen; yet she remains without rival as a painter of
Scottish society, and one at least of her novels deserves to rank with
the masterpieces of British fiction.


There used to be a tradition at Cambridge to the effect that an
undergraduate, being called on in examination to give some account of
John the Baptist, returned the answer, 'Little or nothing is known of
this extraordinary man,'--a reply which probably did not go far enough
to satisfy the examiner. Scarcely more satisfying, however, must be the
response of the biographer who is called on to gratify natural curiosity
regarding the author of _Tom Cringle's Log_--scarcely more satisfying,
though with apparently so much less of excuse. For it is only a little
over sixty years since the death of Michael Scott. Neither was his a
case of posthumous reputation, or of rehabilitation after long neglect,
which might have accounted for the obscuring of biographical detail--his
work, though it has lost nothing of popularity, or certainly of
readableness in the interim, having been received with acclamation on
its first appearance. And yet, after diligent and eager enquiry, the
present writer finds himself forced to acknowledge that all but a meagre
outline of the facts of Scott's life is lost. This is the more
remarkable in that he was obviously no bookworm or literary recluse, and
that all who know his writings will feel instinctively that one so
characterised by humour and the love of good company--to say nothing of
practical joking--should have strewn anecdote thick behind him wherever
he went. But if this was so, his traces have been most effectually
expunged. The sort of find which now rewards, or mocks, his would-be
biographer is, for example, such a tradition as that which records that
he was fond of whisky punch--a solitary survival in the mind of one who
remembers him in Glasgow, but a trait which, considering the times and
the society in which Scott lived, can scarcely be held as individual.
This, however, is not the worst. The writer has reason to believe that
the glorious sea masterpiece with which Scott's name is chiefly
associated was written, or at least partly written, in a house now
belonging to himself--namely, the secluded cottage of Birseslees,
situated on the banks of Ale, in Roxburghshire. Such, at least, is the
tradition which he received from his father, one constitutionally averse
to random statement, who had himself occupied the cottage within ten
years of Scott's decease, and who, as an enthusiastic yachtsman,
familiar with the West Indies, had special reasons for being interested
in his writings. Such testimony--as Mr Mowbray Morris, Scott's
biographer, remarks--is at least as good as that on which rest most of
the statements regarding his life, and no apology is made for adducing
it here. Yet, in despite of this testimony, a careful search, recently
conducted among the oldest inhabitants of the neighbourhood, has failed
to bring to light any but the vaguest and most uncertain references to
the author of the _Log_. Under these conditions, what is left for a
biographer to do? He has no choice but to content himself with a
recapitulation of the few facts already current. One person, indeed,
there is in whose power it almost certainly lies, by enlightening our
ignorance, to gratify our by no means unkindly curiosity; but it is
generally understood that, for reasons which we have no right to
challenge, and which at least in no wise concern the fair fame of the
author, that person's lips are sealed. It therefore now only remains to
consider whether the darkness which surrounds Scott's life is the result
of intention or of accident, and in support of the former conclusion it
may be stated that, among men-of-letters of the time, taking their cue
from the author of _Waverley_, and the practice of Maga, there existed
an undoubted taste for mystification; whilst that the younger Scott
shared in it is proved by the facts that his true name was never known
to his publisher otherwise than by hearsay, and that in his own family
circle and that of his immediate acquaintances the identity of Tom
Cringle was unknown. One suggestion is that these measures were taken
from a prudential point of view, in the interest of his business as a
merchant, which might possibly have suffered had it been known to
receive but divided attention. But as he avoided publicity in
authorship, he may also have chosen to do so in other things. Otherwise,
if internal evidence counts for anything, we should certainly suppose
him to have been the least self-conscious of men, and one of the last in
the world to trouble his head--unless he did it as a joke--as to what
might be known, or not known, about himself.

Under existing circumstances, to write the life of Scott is to reproduce
the narrative of Mr Mowbray Morris. Born at Cowlairs, near Glasgow, on
the 30th October 1789, he was his father's fifth and youngest son. To
that father, Allan Scott by name, the estate of Cowlairs had come from
an elder brother, Robert, described as a Glasgow merchant of good
family, who had purchased it in 1778,--at which time the house stood in
the country, though its site has long since been swallowed up by the
encroachments of the town. Young Scott was sent first to the Grammar
School, as the High School of Glasgow was then called, and afterwards to
the University, where he matriculated when just twelve years of age.
Aird states that he was at school with John Wilson. At the University he
remained four years, during the latter part of which he had as his
inseparable companion the future author of _Cyril Thornton_, a
fellow-student of tastes akin to his own, who has furnished in that
novel a picture of the college life of the time. At the University Scott
does not appear to have gained distinction. Perhaps, like many another
author in embryo, he preferred miscellaneous reading to the college
course; at any rate, the few literary allusions scattered over the pages
of his books are generally apt and appreciative. However his taste seems
to have been for active life, spiced if possible by adventure, and
accordingly, in 1806, we find him leaving Scotland for the West Indies.

At this point Mr Morris, our authority, makes a digression in order to
describe the magnitude and antiquity of the Clyde shipping-trade, and
the effect exercised upon it by the revolt of our American colonies,
which, by diverting it from Virginia to the West Indies, had changed its
staple from tobacco to sugar. It happened that a family friend of the
Scotts, Bogle by name--a Glasgow merchant and the descendant of Glasgow
merchants--had at that time a nephew resident in Jamaica, where he was
occupied as an estate-agent, and on his own account as a trader. To the
care of this gentleman young Scott is now supposed to have been
consigned, that he might be taught an estate-agent's duties. The agent's
name was George William Hamilton, and one feels sure that no admirer of
the _Log_ will hear with indifference that in him Scott found the
original of the most individual of his many droll planter portraits--the
portrait of Aaron Bang.

After profiting for three or four years by the instructions of Hamilton,
who combined with his humorous propensities a very decided talent for
business, in the year 1810 Scott entered a mercantile house at Kingston,
in the employment of which he continued for seven years more. 'These
years,' says Mr Morris, 'were the making of the _Log_. His business,
coupled with Hamilton's friendship, not only brought him into contact
with every phase of society in Jamaica, but sent him on frequent voyages
among the islands and to the Spanish Main; and certainly few travellers
can have carried a more curious pair of eyes with them than Michael
Scott, or entered more heartily into the spirit of the passing hour.' In
1817 he returned to Scotland, and in the year following married
Margaret, daughter of the Mr Bogle previously referred to, and
consequently first cousin to Hamilton. He was soon back in Jamaica,
however, and it was presumably at this time that he occupied the
house--situated high up among the Blue Mountains, in midst of some of
the finest scenery in the world--which is still shown to visitors as
his. He remained in Jamaica till 1822, when he finally returned to his
native land to start business on his own account. This he seems to have
combined with a share in other mercantile concerns, being at the time of
his death a partner in a commission-house in Glasgow, as well as in a
Scottish commercial house in Maracaybo, on the Spanish Main.

It was in 1829 that he first appeared as an author, in which year--again
to quote Mr Morris--'the _Log_ began to make its appearance in
Blackwood's Magazine as a disconnected series of sketches, published
intermittently as the author supplied them, or as the editor found it
convenient to print them. The first five, for instance, appeared in
September and November, 1829, and in June, July and October, 1830, under
the titles of "A Scene off Bermuda," "The Cruise of H.M.S. _Torch_,"
"Heat and Thirst--a Scene in Jamaica," "Davy Jones and the Yankee
Privateer," and the "Quenching of the _Torch_"; and these five papers
now constitute the third chapter.' But shrewd Mr Blackwood, who greatly
admired the sketches, persuaded the author to give them some sort of
connecting link, 'which, without binding him to the strict rules of
narrative composition, would add a strain of personal and continuous
interest in the movement of the story. The young midshipman accordingly
began to cut a more conspicuous figure; and in July, 1832, the title of
"Tom Cringle's Log" was prefixed to what is now the eighth, but was then
called the eleventh chapter. Henceforward the _Log_ proceeded regularly
each month, with but one intermission, to its conclusion in August,
1833'; and a few months later, after some final touches, it made its
appearance as a book. Its success was immediate. It was hailed with
applause in particular by Coleridge, Christopher North, and Albany
Fonblanque--the first-named of whom pronounced it 'most excellent.'
Lockhart in the _Quarterly Review_, in an article on 'Monk' Lewis's
West Indian travels, also speaks of it as the most brilliant series of
magazine papers of the time; whilst the _Scottish Literary Gazette_ for
November 1833 concludes a glowing notice by adjuring the writer,
whatever he may undertake next, to remember that he is the author of
_Tom Cringle's Log_.

Its successor, _The Cruise of the Midge_, made a more regular progress,
from its commencement in March 1834, to its conclusion in June of the
following year, though it also required some final overhauling before
its appearance as a volume. These two books constitute the literary
output of their author, and the completion of the _Cruise of the Midge_
brings us within a short distance of his death, which occurred at his
house in Glasgow[9] on the 7th November 1835, when he had just completed
his forty-sixth year. A large family survived to mourn his loss. He is
buried in the Necropolis, where an unpretending monument marks his
resting-place and that of his wife and several of their children. In the
inscription which it bears, no allusion whatever is made to his literary
achievements. I have been told that in private life Scott was a quiet
easy-going man, of modest and retiring disposition, and also, on the
authority of an old lady who remembers his death, that great was the
surprise in Glasgow when it became known that he had been the author of
thrilling tales of adventure by sea and land. It is said, by the way,
that certain of Cringle's adventures were drawn from the experiences of
a Captain Hobson, father of the Arctic explorer of that name, who when a
lieutenant, about the year 1821, was engaged in putting down piracy in
the West Indies. The character of Paul Gelid can likewise be traced to
an original.

Here ends what is to be known about Scott's life, and if it is with
regret that we accept this fact as inevitable, there is at least a
certain consolation to be derived from reflecting that, in this prying
age, at least one gallant literary figure stands secure from the
mishandling of meddlers. But--the author himself having evaded the
biographer--it is scarcely less remarkable that the popularity of his
works seems to have won them no adequate eulogy. For, so far as I know,
we may search in vain among critical essays for an appreciation of these
masterpieces. Possibly their character as books of adventure relegated
to the boys' shelf may be in part accountable for this; whilst doubtless
the frequent roughness and homeliness of their style--whether casual, or
introduced for the purpose of fitting the speech to the speaker--may
have scared off many such pedants and wiseacres as have yet to learn
that mere _correctness_ is one of the very humblest of literary
qualities, or at least that genius--so it _be_ genius--is like King
Sigismund, above the grammar-books. At an age when most boys are still
puzzling over syntax and orthography, Mr Thomas Cringle and Lieutenant
Benjamin Brail had already brought stout hearts and ready hands to bear
upon the work of men, and it is quite true that in the records of their
experiences not only do we find foreigners talking their own languages
very imperfectly, but also the authors themselves from time to time
making use of faulty constructions and of novel spelling. Now had their
business been mainly an affair of words and phrases, this had been
serious indeed; but as, instead, it happens to be one of thoughts,
feelings, sensations, and the art of communicating them, the case is
very different. And we may add that had any man composed ten times as
loosely as Cringle sometimes chose to do, whilst still retaining
Cringle's power to make us see and feel with him, that man had still
remained a most remarkable writer. However already more than enough has
been said on the subject of these few and very trifling errors, which in
fact interfere not at all with a style which is usually clear, nervous
and straightforward.

As has been already indicated, Scott's principal literary gift lay in
his power of presentation--his power, that is, of putting simply,
sufficingly, and without redundancy, a scene or person before the
reader, so that he shall see the one and hear the other speak. From the
days of Homer to those of the world-wide success of the youngest of our
distinguished novelists, this gift has been recognised as quintessential
in the story-teller. In the two broad classes of temperaments, it is
wont to assume two separate forms, which differ from one another--in
class-room terms--as the objective from the subjective. Of the latter of
these--by virtue of which a reader is compelled so completely to
identify himself with scenes depicted that he not only seems to witness
them, but actually for the time being to participate and play the
leading part in them--the works of Currer Bell, and perhaps especially
_Villette_, the most highly-finished of her novels, afford notable
examples. The converse side of the gift is displayed by the virile and
active temperament of Michael Scott; and, of this particular quality,
many a writer of far higher reputation has possessed greatly less than
he. In illustration of this, the example of his greater namesake may be
quoted, for with all his many other excellences, Sir Walter's pictorial
or mimetic effects are seldom, or never, perfectly 'clean'--direct, and
free from surplusage or alloy. Michael Scott's, on the other hand, are
about as direct as it is possible to be. Illustrations might be quoted
at will, for if there is one thing more surprising than the gift itself,
it is the lavish use made of it by its possessor on page after page of
his writings. The following characteristic scene may serve as an
example, and it must be borne in mind that all Scott's fine scenes are
incidental: he never, so to speak, makes a point of them.

    'It was eleven o'clock in the forenoon, a fine clear breezy day,
    fresh and pleasant, sometimes cloudy overhead, but always breaking
    away again, with a bit of a sneezer, and a small shower. As the sun
    rose there were indications of squalls in the north-eastern quarter,
    and about noon one of them was whitening to windward. So "hands by
    the top-gallant clew-lines" was the word, and we were all standing
    by to shorten sail, when the Commodore came to the wind as sharp and
    suddenly as if he had anchored; but on a second look, I saw his
    sheets were let fly. The wind, ever since noon, had been blowing in
    heavy squalls, with appalling lulls between them. One of these gusts
    had been so violent as to bury in the sea the lee-guns in the waist,
    although the brig had nothing set but her close-reefed
    main-top-sail, and reefed foresail. It was now spending its fury,
    and she was beginning to roll heavily, when, with a suddenness
    almost incredible to one unacquainted with these latitudes, the veil
    of mist that had hung to windward the whole day was rent and drawn
    aside, and the red and level rays of the setting sun flashed at
    once, through a long arch of glowing clouds, on the black hull and
    tall spars of his Britannic Majesty's sloop, _Torch_. And, true
    enough, we were not the only spectators of this gloomy splendour;
    for, right in the wake of the moonlike sun, now half sunk in the
    sea, at the distance of a mile or more, lay a long warlike-looking
    craft, apparently a frigate or heavy corvette, rolling heavily and
    silently in the trough of the sea, with her masts, yards, and the
    scanty sail she had set, in strong relief against the glorious

Or this--

    'The anchorage was one unbroken mirror, except where its glass-like
    surface was shivered into sparkling ripples by the gambols of a
    skipjack, or the flashing stoop of his enemy the pelican; and the
    reflection of the vessel was so clear and steady, that at the
    distance of a cable's length you could not distinguish the
    water-line, nor tell where the substance ended and shadow began,
    until the casual dashing of a bucket overboard for a few moments
    broke up the phantom ship; but the wavering fragments soon reunited,
    and she again floated double, like the swan of the poet. The heat
    was so intense, that the iron stancheons of the awning could not be
    grasped with the hand, and where the decks were not screened by it,
    the pitch boiled out from the seams. The swell rolled in from the
    offing in long shining undulations, like a sea of quicksilver,
    whilst every now and then a flying-fish would spark out from the
    unruffled bosom of the heaving water, and shoot away like a silver
    arrow, until it dropped with a flash into the sea again. There was
    not a cloud in the heavens, but a quivering blue haze hung over the
    land, through which the white sugar-works and overseers' houses on
    the distant estates appeared to twinkle like objects seen through a
    thin smoke, whilst each of the tall stems of the cocoa-nut trees on
    the beach, when looked at steadfastly, seemed to be turning round
    with a small spiral motion, like so many endless screws. There was a
    dreamy indistinctness about the outlines of the hills, even in the
    immediate vicinity, which increased as they receded, until the Blue
    Mountains in the horizon melted into sky. The crew were listlessly
    spinning oakum, and mending sails, under the shade of the awning;
    the only exceptions to the general languor were John Crow, the
    black, and Jacko the monkey. The former (who was an _improvisatore_
    of a rough stamp) sat out on the bowsprit, through choice, beyond
    the shade of the canvas, without hat or shirt, like a bronze bust,
    busy with his task, whatever that might be, singing at the top of
    his pipe, and between whiles confabulating with his hairy ally, as
    if he had been a messmate. The monkey was hanging by the tail from
    the dolphin-striker, admiring what John Crow called "his own dam
    ogly face in the water."

    'Tail like yours would be good ting for a sailor, Jacko; it would
    leave his two hands free aloft--more use, more hornament, too, I'm
    sure, den de piece of greasy junk dat hangs from de captain's
    taffril.--Now I shall sing to you, how dat Corromantee rascal, my
    fader, was sell me on de Gold Coast--

    '"Two red nightcap, one long knife,
      All him get for Quacko,
    For gun next day him sell him wife--
      You tink dat good song, Jacko?"

    '"Chocko, chocko," chattered the monkey, as if in answer.

    '"Ah, you tink so--sensible hominal!--What is dat! shark?--Jacko,
    come up, sir: don't you see dat big shovel-nosed fis looking at you?
    Pull your hand out of the water--Garamighty!"

    'The negro threw himself on the gammoning of the bowsprit to take
    hold of the poor ape, who, mistaking his kind intention, and
    ignorant of his danger, shrunk from him, lost his hold, and fell
    into the sea. The shark instantly sank to have a run, then dashed at
    his prey, raising his snout over him, and shooting his head and
    shoulders three or four feet out of the water, with poor Jacko
    shrieking in his jaws, whilst his small bones crackled and crunched
    under the monster's triple row of teeth.'

To this talent for presentation, by a most fortunate coincidence,
Scott's experience enabled him to add a command of rich and rare
material: his subject-matter was quite worthy of the powers which he
brought to bear upon it. Indeed, few literary men have been more
favoured by time and place. For, letting alone the fact that the West
Indies were in those days virgin soil to the romance-writer, letting
alone the glorious opportunities afforded by a familiarity with Nature
in the tropics, studied in storm and calm, by land and sea--and
especially to a man of Scott's taste for strong effects, one gifted with
his eye for atmosphere, whose genius itself has something of tropical
grandeur and luxuriance, were these opportunities valuable,--letting
alone, also, the rich and varied social order amid which he moved--its
quaint and original types of planter and seaman, the picturesqueness of
its desperadoes, and the naïveté of its coloured people--Scott's sojourn
in the islands was timed at a particularly stirring epoch in their
history. Warfare, smuggling and piracy, slavery and the suppression of
the slave-trade were being carried on before his eyes; and it is even
suggested that such scenes as the boarding of the _Wave_, the
examination of Job Rumble-tithump, and the trial and execution of the
pirates, may very probably have had their foundation in things actually
witnessed by the writer. Now I suppose that I am not singular, and that
like myself many genuine lovers of romance delight to cherish the belief
that what they are reading, if not actually true, is at least in some
way related to the author's experience. In this respect Scott satisfies
us perfectly. And herein lies his immense advantage over other
competitors in the same field. For in reading, for instance (admirable
as they are), the pirate scenes of the _Master of Ballantrae_, we cannot
but miss this sense,--so that whilst we hear with bated breath of bloody
deeds and hairbreadth 'scapes, we are haunted all the while by an uneasy
feeling that this is all but a most brilliantly executed _fantasia_, or
variation, upon documents.

Granting, then, that rarely if ever have more brilliant pictures of more
interesting incidents been more lavishly set before a reader than in the
pages of _Tom Cringle's Log_, we are impelled to enquire what are the
corresponding weaknesses which have debarred the author from taking the
highest rank as a writer. The answer is not far to seek; it is a defect
of constructive power. If he possessed much genius, Michael Scott had
but little art. The effect of his fine pictures is not cumulative; each
is alike revealed, as it were, by a powerful flash, and the result is
that they obliterate one another. For it is surely needless to point out
that every work of high artistic achievement is a whole, and that in
that whole, and in relation to that whole, each part has a value
greatly exceeding its value when considered separately. But in Scott's
stories this is not so. Remove any one incident from one of his stories,
and the reader will be the poorer by the loss of an interesting
incident, and by no more. And so, with injury only of the same kind, his
books might be extended or curtailed, whilst their incidents might be
transposed without injury at all. I am aware that to write in this
somewhat heavily academic style of a writer than whom no man of equal
gifts made ever less pretention, may be to incur the imputation of
taking too high a ground, and to draw down criticism upon the critic's
head. I can only reply that the extreme excellence, within their own
limits, of Scott's literary achievements has provoked me to it, and that
had his works shown less surprising merit they should have been treated
in a lighter vein.

The same neglect of constructive power which strikes us in the conduct
of the tales is apparent in the treatment of the characters. It is the
practice of masters of characterisation to make their characters, so to
speak, _turn round_ before the reader, so that, ere the end of the book
is reached, no aspect of them shall have been left unseen. But with
Scott one aspect is exhibited repeatedly, and thus our knowledge is
circumscribed. That the characters live we feel assured, but with one or
two such exceptions as Aaron and Obed, it is as members of a class that
we recognise them, not as _individuals_, whilst again and again as we
read we are compelled to turn back would we distinguish from his fellows
any particular one among the quaintly-named officers and seamen.

In female portraiture Scott attempts but little, in which he is
probably well-advised. For though Cringle's sweetheart is certainly a
pleasing sketch enough, in his more ambitious and quasi-Byronic
flights--the delineation of the pirate's leman or the bride of
Adderfang--the author for the moment leaves nature behind him, and
consequently gives us almost the only passages in his books which do not
ring true. These passages may perhaps be held to justify the
condemnation of Captain Marryat, who pronounced him melodramatic.
But--despite the strong nature of the fare which he provides--melodramatic,
except in such passages, he certainly is not. For to describe thrilling
situations, with the eye not fixed upon the situations themselves but
intent on their _effect_, is melodrama in the true sense; and of this
the genial author of _The Pirate and Three Cutters_ himself supplies
some choice examples.

It strikes a reader as strange that the occasion of Cringle's visit to
Carthagena evokes no allusion to Smollett, for it is with Smollett and
Marryat that we most naturally think of comparing Cringle's creator.
Michael Scott does not rise to the Cervantic heights of humour of the
former; but few, indeed, are the writers who have done this. Nor, of
course, has he Smollett's style; though, on the other side of the
account, with thankfulness we acknowledge that his page is quite free
from Smollett's filth and coarseness. Marryat also possessed more of the
gifts of the novelist than Scott, or at least had greater opportunities
of showing them. But there is one point, and that a most telling one, in
which Scott has immeasurably the advantage of the others--he comes far
_nearer to the reader_ than either of them. Of course his easy and
homely style, his use of the first person, his occasional confidential
digressions, are means employed towards this end, but equally of course
the secret of his success lies in his personality. Personality, or, in
other words, genius it is which gives him his power over the reader--a
power which makes even the refractory and fastidious to follow him, as a
dog follows its master. Constitutionally a reader may have small relish
for farce, and a positive distaste for horse-play; and yet when Scott is
in the mood for either, the reader will become so too. And in a higher
and sweeter kind of humour, his power is equally in proportion to the
demand of the occasion--in support of which I can cite no better
evidence than the delightful scenes in which the sailors of the _Midge_
seek to resuscitate the apparently drowned baby boy, afterwards
nicknamed Dicky Phantom; and in which their joy is expressed when he
gives signs of life; with Dogvane's mission to the officer in command to
plead on behalf of his mess-mates for the custody of the child (which
shall replace in their affections a parrot blown away in a gale, a
monkey washed overboard, and a cat which has died of cold) and the
subsequent scenes in which, with a comical shamefaced roundaboutness,
one after another, to the admiral himself, puts in his claim for the
care of the babe. Scenes more winningly human than these would, I think,
be far to seek. In equal degree does this beloved writer hold the key to
our manlier enthusiasms. Far distant be the day when amongst
generous-minded boys such books as his shall lose their popularity, for
it is by these that the best lessons of our history are enforced. It has
been said of the playwright Shakespeare that his works are proof that he
had it in him to strike a stout blow in a good cause. The spirit of
Agincourt was not found wanting at Trafalgar, and the same may be said
with truth of the Glasgow merchant, Scott. The voice of Britain's
greatness itself speaks in his books, and as we read them we seem
brought nearer to the spirit of Drake or of Dundonald.

In conclusion, Scott's stories have here been considered together, for
though the _Log_ is on the whole justly the favourite of the two, in
general characteristics they are almost identical. Quite towards the
close, both books display some slight tendency to 'drag,' but in this
respect the _Cruise_ is the worse transgressor. It is also the more
loosely put together, and this despite the fact that in the relations
subsisting between Lennox and Adderfang, and the mystery which surrounds
young De Walden, the author has obviously been at pains to sustain
interest by something in the nature of a plot. Again, if he does not
repeat himself in the _Cruise_, Scott at least does not steer quite
clear of all danger of doing so; for, in addition to the fact that the
general pattern of the two tales is the same, several incidents of the
latter have counterparts in the former. And yet, on the whole, such fine
books are they both that to criticise either is deservedly to incur the
imputation of being spoiled with good things.


[9] No. 198 Atholl Place. Article in _Glasgow Herald_, 1st May 1895.


The statement--somewhat disquieting to the professed littérateur--that
almost any man may if he choose write one good book in a life-time,
finds something like confirmation in the case of Thomas Hamilton. Not
primarily a writer, and not gifted by nature with any very remarkable
talent or grace of the pen, he yet contrived to produce a book for which
a few transcripts of military life in peace and war, a few pictures of
travel, perhaps a portrait or two drawn from the life, have sufficed to
preserve, after seventy years, a portion of the favour with which it was
greeted on its first appearance. The materials for a sketch of his
career are scanty, but blanks in the narrative may to some extent be
filled in from a perusal of _Cyril Thornton_.

Born in the year 1789, he was the younger son of William Hamilton,
Professor of Anatomy and Botany in the University of Glasgow, his elder
brother becoming in time Sir William Hamilton, the celebrated
metaphysician and intellectual luminary of Edinburgh. He was put to
school in the south of England, and about the year 1803 entered the
Glasgow University, where he studied for three winters, giving evidence,
as his brother has borne witness, of ability rather than of application.
His taste for a military life was at first opposed, but having satisfied
his friends by experiment that he was unsuited for a commercial career,
in 1810 he obtained by purchase a commission in the 29th Regiment. He
had hardly joined, when the corps was ordered out to active service in
the Peninsula, where it bore the brunt of the hardly-won battle of
Albuera, in which Hamilton himself was wounded by a musket bullet in the
thigh. During his short military career, he was once more on active
service in the Peninsula, and also served in Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick during the American War, subsequent to which he returned to
Europe, his regiment being sent as part of the army of occupation to
France. Retiring on half-pay about the year 1818, he came to reside in
Edinburgh, and began to turn his attention to literature. He had
received a good classical education, and being well introduced, he was
hailed as a congenial spirit by the Blackwood circle, and becoming
associated with the magazine, threw himself into the spirit of the
enterprise, to which he furnished contributions both in verse and prose.
In the _Noctes Ambrosianæ_ he occasionally figures as 'O'Doherty,' a
name, however, which was also applied to Dr Maginn. He is described in
_Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk_ as possessing a 'noble grand
Spaniard-looking head,' with a very sombre expression of countenance,
and a tall graceful person. The natural freedom of his movements seems,
however, to have been to some extent impeded by his wound. Carlyle, who
knew him later, describes him as a 'pleasant, very courteous, and
intelligently talking man, enduring, in a cheery military humour, his
old Peninsular hurts,' and altogether it is easy to see that he must
have formed an interesting and popular figure in the Edinburgh society
of his day.

Having married in 1820, he resided for several summers at the
picturesque little dwelling of Chiefswood, near Melrose, where he had an
appreciative neighbour in the person of Sir Walter Scott, and where the
greater part of the _Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton_ was written.
This book appeared in 1827, and at once attracted attention. In 1829,
the author followed it up with _Annals of the Peninsular Campaigns, from
1808 to 1814_, and in 1833, after a visit to the New World, by _Men and
Manners in America_. In later life, having lost his first wife and
married again, he settled at Elleray, in the Lake District, where he saw
a good deal of Wordsworth, of whom he had long been an admirer,
frequently, as we are told, accompanying the poet upon long mountain
walks. His death, occasioned by a shock of paralysis, took place at
Pisa, whilst he was travelling with Mrs Hamilton, on the 7th December
1842. He was buried at Florence.

No doubt the novel of _Cyril Thornton_ has in time past owed much of its
popularity to its varied action and frequently shifting scene, and if we
are to judge it now on literary grounds we have no choice but to
acknowledge that great portion of its interest has perished. Still,
there remain a few admirable passages, and in this particular instance
the lines of cleavage between true and false are marked with peculiar
distinctness. For the book may be described as fragments of
autobiography embedded in a paste of romance. Now imagination was by no
means Hamilton's strong point; his fancy was neither very happy nor very
abundant, and when he essays character-painting on an important
scale--as in the case of old David Spreull, the conventional eccentric
but beneficent uncle of the story, and his faithful servant Girzy, he is
as deficient in anything like true insight as he is in lightness of
touch. But though his fiction is of this heavy quality, he could present
to admiration what he himself had seen and taken part in, and from time
to time he has thought fit to do so, with excellent effect.

Cyril Thornton is the scion of an old county family, who, at a very
early age, has the misfortune accidentally to kill his elder brother.
His father's affection is in consequence alienated from him, and he
grows up under a cloud. In time he is sent to the University, and the
scene of the story shifts to Glasgow, thus affording opportunity for
some scathing portraiture of the merchant life of that city. At Glasgow
Cyril makes the acquaintance of his uncle, and by the amiability and
independence of his character conquers the affection of the rich old
childless man. He has now arrived at man's estate, and whilst visiting
his aristocratic connection, the Earl of Amersham, at Staunton Court, he
sees, loves, and is beloved by, the beautiful and fascinating Lady
Melicent, the daughter of the house. Their scarcely-avowed attachment is
interrupted by the fatal illness of Cyril's mother, and being summoned
to return home with all speed, Cyril is there informed that, in a spirit
of cruel vindictiveness, his father has disinherited him. His gloom
deepens, and after some further romantic and amatory experience, at
length--alas! it is, indeed, at length--he joins the army. This is what
we have been waiting for, and our patience is now rewarded. At first he
is quartered at Halifax, where, at that time, the Duke of Kent was
Commander-in-Chief, and we are treated to a satirical portrait of His
Royal Highness, followed by a good deal of interesting description of
the military life of those days, interspersed with characteristic
anecdote, and varied by love-intrigue and a duel. Then follow travel and
sea-faring, with eloquent picture of an ascent of the Peak of Teneriffe,
of the Bermuda islands, and Gibraltar. Whilst Cyril is at the last-named
station, the vicissitudes of military life are illustrated by an
outbreak of yellow-fever, and when he is on his way back to England the
transport ship which bears him becomes engaged with a French privateer.
From all this it will be seen that of incident and movement there is no
lack, yet it is not until after the outbreak of the Spanish War of
Independence, when the hero is ordered with his regiment to the
Peninsula, that our expectations are fully satisfied. In such passages
as, for instance, those which describe the storming of the heights of
Roleia, the night spent by Cyril on out-piquet duty, or the capture of
the fort witnessed by the light of fire-balls, we have, not only the
scenes of war, but the poetry of the soldier's life set before us to
admiration. Scarcely less excellent is the account of Cyril's further
service under Wellington, Sir Rowland Hill, and Marshal Beresford, at
the lines of Torres Vedras, the siege of Badajos, and the battle of
Albuera, our interest in which is greatly strengthened by knowledge that
the writer was himself a part of what he describes. Our only regret is
that he has devoted so comparatively little of his book to what he does
so well. For all too soon we have the hero back in London once more,
frightfully disfigured by a wound received in action, and as a
consequence slighted by the dazzling but shallow Lady Melicent, who
before had looked so graciously upon the handsome soldier. And now the
novel begins to drag lamentably. The hero's domestic misfortunes strike
us as superfluous, whilst the madhouse scenes, where the characters
discourse in 'poetic prose,' are in the basest style of melodrama. Nor
do we care enough for Mr Spreull and his Girzy to have much patience
with the languid and long-drawn concluding scenes in which they take
part. Suffice it then to say that, ere we bid adieu to Cyril, he is
restored to his family estate, enriched by the inheritance of his
uncle's fortune, and consoled for the loss of the fickle Melicent by
worth and affection in the person of Laura Willoughby, the friend of his

The writer of the obituary of Hamilton in _Blackwood_ is eloquent in
praise of the literary style of the book. But when we find the novelist,
who writes in the first person, declaring that 'the elements of thought
and feeling within him were conglomerated into confused and inextricable
masses,' or describing a housemaid as being 'busied in her matutinal
vocation,' or alluding to the 'supererogatory decoration of shaving,'
or, when he wishes to inform us that there was a doctor in a certain
village, employing the locution that the village 'had the advantage of
including in its population a professor of the healing art,'--then we
dispute the competency of his critic. This inflation of style is the
more curious in that, fortified by his English education, Hamilton, like
Miss Ferrier, is by no means inclined to deal mercifully with the
foibles of his countrymen, as is amply shown by his portrait of Mr
Archibald Shortridge, or his account of the visit of the five Miss
Spreulls, of Balmalloch, and their mother to Bath. But for this we
should naturally have passed over any slips in his own style, preferring
to regard them as the not unamiable lapses of a hand more skilled to
wield the sword than drive the pen. His book on the Peninsular
Campaigns is written in good straightforward English, but in _Men and
Manners in America_ he again falls victim to the temptation never to use
one word where two will do nearly as well. When the characters in _Cyril
Thornton_ converse--be they officers in the army, charming young ladies,
peers of the realm, or (like Miss Mansfield) daughters of respectable
tradesmen--they uniformly make use of finely rounded and elaborately
constructed periods, preferring as a rule the third person as a form of
address--as, for instance, when a lady, addressing the hero, observes,
'I should be surprised to hear that Captain Thornton was of those,' and
so on. This, however, is, of course, no fault of the author's, but
simply a not ungraceful literary convention of the age in which he

Though he professed Whig politics, Hamilton's pose throughout his
writings is one of aristocratic hauteur, and we are consequently the
less surprised to learn that the book in which he embodied his
observations on America gave dire offence in that country, provoking
angry reprisals. It may be that the comments of the gallant captain are
made occasionally in a spirit neither wholly free from insular
prejudice, nor from that particular pedantry which is sometimes
generated by a military training. But it is also manifest that the
existence which he surveyed--in a world, as must be remembered, at that
time really new--was in many respects a sufficiently bare, comfortless,
inelegant, and unrefined one, strangely lacking in the elements of
elevation in public or private life. Hamilton strove to judge it fairly,
and his observations are those of an intelligent and honest critic.
Passing easily, as they do, from grave to gay--now commenting on the
tendencies of democratic government or of the tariff, now comparing the
constitutions of the different States, now describing the prison or
scholastic systems of the country, and now touching upon the beauty and
the dress of the ladies, upon dinner parties, modes of eating,
barbarisms of language, and the like--they may be read with interest and
historically not without profit to this day.

Of his _Annals of the Peninsular Campaigns_, the author tells us that it
was intended to appeal to a wider public than was likely to be available
for the lengthy histories of Napier and Southey, its object being to
extend a knowledge of the great achievements of the British arms and an
appropriate pride in them. Hamilton had special qualifications for the
task, and he supplied an admirably terse and lucid narrative, but this
was not accomplished without a sacrifice of much of that picturesque and
personal detail which does so much to save history from dryness, and to
make it attractive and memorable to the general reader. So that his end
was but half attained.

       *       *       *       *       *


_The following Volumes are in preparation:_--

NORMAN MACLEOD. By John Wellwood.
SIR WALTER SCOTT. By Professor Saintsbury.
GEORGE BUCHANAN. By Robert Wallace, M.P.
ADAM SMITH. By Hector C. Macpherson.
MUNGO PARK. By T. Banks Maclachlan.
JAMES THOMSON. By William Bayne.
DAVID HUME. By Professor Calderwood.

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